For Immediate Release
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EFF to FTC: Online Retailers Must Label Products Sold with Digital Locks
Consumers Need Warning If Movies, Music, Games Restrict When and How They Are Used
SAN FRANCISCO - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and a coalition of consumer groups, content creators, and publishers asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) today to require online retailers to label the ebooks, songs, games, and apps that come with digital locks restricting how consumers can use them.
In a letter sent to the FTC today, the coalition said companies like Amazon, Google, and Apple have a duty to inform consumers if products for sale are locked with some kind of "digital rights management" or DRM. Companies use DRM to purportedly combat copyright infringement, but DRM locks can also block you from watching the movie you bought in New York when you go to Asia on vacation, or limit which devices can play the songs you purchased.
"Without DRM labeling, it’s nearly impossible to figure out which products have digital locks and what restrictions these locks impose," said EFF Special Advisor Cory Doctorow. "We know the public prefers DRM-free e-books and other electronic products, but right now buyers are in the dark about DRM locks when they go to make purchases online. Customers have a right to know about these restrictions before they part with their money, not after."
The letter is accompanied by a request that the FTC investigate and take action on behalf of consumers who find themselves deprived of the enjoyment of their property every day, due to a marketplace where products limited by DRM are sold without adequate notice. The request details the stories of 20 EFF supporters who bought products—ebooks, videos, games, music, devices, even a cat-litter box—that came with DRM that caused them grief. They report that DRM left them with broken, orphaned, or useless devices and in some cases even incapacitated other devices.
The FTC oversees fair packaging and labeling rules that are supposed to prevent consumers from being deceived and facilitate value comparisons. Today’s letter argues that the FTC should require electronic sellers to use a simple, consistent, and straightforward label about DRM locks for digital media. For example, "product detail" lists—which appear on digital product pages and disclose such basic information as serial number, file size, publisher, and whether certain technological features are enabled—should include a category stating whether a product is DRM-free or DRM-restricted. The latter designation should include a link to a clear explanation of the restrictions imposed on the product.
"The use of DRM is controversial among creators, studios, and audiences. What shouldn’t be controversial is the right of consumers to know which products have DRM locks. If car companies made vehicles that only drove on certain streets, they’d have to disclose this to consumers. Likewise, digital media products with DRM restrictions should be clearly labeled," said Doctorow.
Signers of today’s letter include the Consumer Federation of America, Public Knowledge, the Free Software Foundation, McSweeney’s, and No Starch Press.
For the full letter to the FTC:
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