About Patrick von Braunmühl and vzbv: Patrick von Braunmühl is Deputy Executive Director of the Federation of German Consumer Organisations (vzbv) and Head of the Department for Economic and Legal Affairs. vzbv is a non-governmental organisation acting as an umbrella for 38 German consumer associations. It represents the interests of consumers in public and vis-à-vis legislators, the private sector and civil society. Its goal is to protect and empower the consumer. The organisation does this by lobbying and campaigning at national and European levels, by taking collective legal action on behalf of consumers and by ensuring that its message receives broad media coverage. Contact: wirtschaft@vzbv.de

INDICARE: Mr. von Braunmühl what are, from your point of view, the most serious threats of DRM for consumers and the society as a whole?

P. von Braunmühl: A broad application of DRM technologies carries the risk that the use of content will be completely controlled by the content industry. As a result, DRM technologies could limit the access of broad parts of society to information and cultural goods.

In addition, there is a danger that prices for information, cultural goods, and scientific works will increase if consumers have to pay for every single use of content. Consumers that want to use their legally acquired digital content in the same way as they are used to from the analogue world, might only be able to do so at higher prices. Such a development would not only be negative for consumers but also for society as a whole. Innovation would be negatively affected, since creators of works need inspiration from other artists and scientists, which requires easy access to other works.

INDICARE: How can DRM technology confine consumer rights?

P. von Braunmühl: DRM technology has the potential to override copyright law. When DRM technology is applied, the legal relationship between content providers and consumers is increasingly ruled by contract law rather than by copyright law. Limitations to copyright law, e.g. the private copying exemption, might factually be overruled by the contract between content provider and its client. Standard clickwrap licenses, for example, that consumers have to accept to access content can exclude uses of content that are actually exempted from copyright. In this way, DRM technology and respective contracts can disqualify exemptions stated by copyright law.

INDICARE: What can consumers do to fight this?

P. von Braunmühl: For individual consumers it is difficult to know which uses of digital content are legitimate and which are not. Copyright law is a very complex issue and individual consumers are usually not very well informed about copyright limitations. Adding to this lack of knowledge is a significant lack of transparency in many online contracts and in the use of DRMs. Furthermore, consumers are severely alienated by campaigns from the content industry, which give the impression that private copying is equal to piracy.

But even if individual consumers know that the legitimate use of content is restricted by a specific content provider, they have only very small incentives and high financial risks to engage in court actions against this practice.

INDICARE: How can consumer organisations help to enforce consumers’ rights?

P. von Braunmühl: Consumer organisations can help to protect individual consumer rights with collective actions against unfair practice. However, we need concrete complaints from individual consumers to become active in collective actions that prevent rightsholders and content providers from restricting consumer rights.

INDICARE: Is there a new role for consumer organisations in the digital world?

P. von Braunmühl: One important role of consumer organisations in the analogue world is to check whether sales contracts and terms of conditions contain clauses that are detrimental to consumer rights. We increasingly have to play this role in the digital world as well. We have to check the terms and conditions of online offerings for unlawful clauses and unfair practices and make sure that contracts are in line with legal provisions that protect consumer rights.

However, in the case of digital content, current legislation does not provide a very good basis to protect consumer interests. Consumer protection law in most countries does not consider the use of digital media. And copyright law does not provide for consumer rights, it only provides for exemptions to copyright. If these exemptions are factually disqualified by DRM technology, the legal situation is currently far from clear.

INDICARE: So current legislation is not adequate to protect consumer rights in the area of digital content?

P. von Braunmühl: No. Currently, consumer rights in the digital world are not clearly defined. There is no balance of interests of rightsholders and consumers. In some cases, current legislation even protects unfair practices. For example, legislation in most countries prohibits the circumvention of technical protection measures, completely ignoring whether these measures are in line with copyright law or not. Even if a technological measure restricts a consumer from using digital content legitimately, this measure may be protected by law.

What we need is a clear definition of what private copying means and under which conditions consumers have the right for private copying. We claim that copyright exemptions have to become consumer rights! Otherwise, DRM technology can – and will - be used to the disadvantage of consumers, without any legal measures to enforce consumers’ legitimate interests. Legislation should make sure that DRMs cannot restrict copyright limitations.

INDICARE: Mr. von Braunmühl, thank you very much for this interview!


Status: first posted 25.02.2005; licensed under Creative Commons
URL: http://www.indicare.org/tiki-read_article.php?articleId=78