Consumer confidence in digital environment

A letter was sent to Free Software Europe inviting an initially brief input for a report titled "Consumer Confidence in the Digital Environment". The letter [1] appears to be personally addressed (or is at least a "circular") and was forwarded to the ORG-discuss list. As a result its not clear if it is open for ORG to send input, but that doesn't stop me from listing the questions here for notes to be attached.

Very limited information from the European Parliament

Abbreviated Questions

What are the main problem areas, which you are confronted with generally, or in your field, regarding CCDE?

Consumer Rights, Consumer Privacy and lack of consideration for the consumer in law making.

Digital Rights Management (DRM) systems are use-restriction technologies, protected by anti-circumvention provisions under the EUCD and the 1996 WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT). DRM software seeks to control how owners of lawfully acquired works use those works. It also seeks to control who may make players and interoperable technologies for use in connection with those works.

Both of these objectives harm the public interest, are technically infeasible, and upset the balance of interests between creators and the wider public which copyright law ought to reflect.

Consumers are in effect losing the rights they have gained over the last hundred years or so. This is being done through DRM, also these DRM systems mostly mean that new products that are subject to restrictions that the producers are not telling consumers about. They are also being using in anti competitive ways for example DVDs that can only be played in a given region of the world.

Users have taken for grated certain rights in relation to products they have bought that they can lend them, use them, make back-ups and sell them on.

You may be interested in reading our submission to the UK All Party Parliamentary Internet Group : APIG DRM Inquiry Submission

Most of the experiences that users are finding with companies trying to protect their copyrighted material are negative ones. The problem that has probably effected the largest group of people in Europe is copy protection on CDs, there are now many CDs that will not play on certain bits of equipment, so it might play on your CD player but it will not play on your computer, consumers were not told about this before they bought the CD. What this illustrates is the drive to protect the legitimate interests in artists being paid is having a restriction on the way that consumers expect to use their equipment. If I buy a CD an ordinary CD with out copy protection I can play it where I want I can lend it to friends, I can make a backup copy of it, all of that is being restricted in the digital environment.

You as the customer are still subject to being under the control of the party that has sold the product, they can retract rights that you used to have even after they have sold you the good.

Disability access, blind people and others with sensory disabilities often have the statutory right to convert media to assistive formats, but if DRM is in place they are prevented from doing so.

With the advent of digital mediums and especially the internet there is a need for any thing that helps consumers understand their rights, the need to basic principals that they can follow that avoid complexity that the average consumer can not not be reasonably expect to understand or follow. Also there needs to be an easy quick way for consumers to appeal if they think that these rights are being ignored or broken.

What are the key challenges for the IT industry and its users, which can be foreseen in your field of competence?

Software Patents, DRM, Data Protection, Open Standards

The fact that the EPO has low standards that are rejected by courts across Europe and the fact they are allowing software patents are combining to become the key challenge for the IT industry.

Artificial blocks to competition that are preventing markets forces from forcing producers to provide Consumer Rights and Consumer Privacy.

Could you present your opinion on legislative problems?

(Issues for which new legislation is needed or where, on the other hand, over-regulation and some unnecessary rules should be abolished. Please address these questions concerning EU legislation or even those in which the national rules apply, and so only better coordination of the Member States can be supported)

  • Software Patents, please consult FFII.
  • Data retention directive
  • The Inspire Directive
  • There are rumours of legislation to increase copy rights term, we would oppose such an increase.

Because the Internal Market cannot be isolated from the globalised market, do you see related challenges at international/global level?

In regard to your previous answers, do you see possible legislative solutions?

Copy some FFII stuff in here about software patents.

Avoid the mistake of looking at copyright and patents and trademarks together as a single issue.

A governmental requirement of open file formats from all vendors would go a long way. It would set expectations correctly. Massachusetts could act as a example of how to go about doing this.

Moreover, could you please share any other ideas which have been raised in your mind on CCDE?