View Full Version : Legality or otherwise of removing DRM in the UK


avantman42
02-01-2012, 03:07 AM
I've seen people argue back and forth whether or not it's legal to remove DRM in the US. It's generally said that it's legal in the UK, because there is no DMCA or similar law making it illegal.

However, it is my understanding that in the UK, it is illegal to make an unauthorised copy of a copyrighted work, even for personal use. The oft-quoted example being that it's illegal to take a legally-purchased CD and rip it to MP3s so that you can listen to it on your iPod.

I would imagine that removing the DRM would qualify as making a copy, in the same way that format-shifting qualifies. If that's true, then I'd further imagine that it's illegal in the UK.

Can anyone confirm or contradict this? I'm only interested in the legality, I really don't want to get into a discussion about the ethics or morals of removing DRM. Also, note that I'm asking about UK law - please don't cite "fair use" - UK law doesn't have a fair use provision.

HarryT
02-01-2012, 03:26 AM
DRM removal is not illegal in the UK; there is no law which prohibits it. Format conversion technically is illegal, but nobody has ever been prosecuted for it, and the recording industry body in the UK has said that they will not take action against anyone shifting formats for personal use (eg ripping a legally-bought CD to an MP3 player).

Note, however, that DRM removal is very likely in violation of the licensing terms of the bookstore from where you've purchased the book. It is, for example, a violation of Amazon's T&Cs to strip DRM from Kindle books.

avantman42
02-01-2012, 03:55 AM
DRM removal is not illegal in the UK; there is no law which prohibits it.
I thought you'd say that, Harry ;)

Format conversion technically is illegal,
That's what I'm interested in exploring. Does removing DRM count as format conversion? If it does, then it's illegal, if it doesn't, then it isn't. I'd have thought there's a reasonably strong case for saying that it is format conversion.

but nobody has ever been prosecuted for it, and the recording industry body in the UK has said that they will not take action against anyone shifting formats for personal use (eg ripping a legally-bought CD to an MP3 player).
I know that. I'm not asking because I fear that anyone will be prosecuted for it, I'm simply interested in whether it is technically illegal.

Note, however, that DRM removal is very likely in violation of the licensing terms of the bookstore from where you've purchased the book. It is, for example, a violation of Amazon's T&Cs to strip DRM from Kindle books.
I'd be very surprised if any store that issues DRM'd books doesn't make it a violation of the T&Cs to strip it.

HarryT
02-01-2012, 03:58 AM
That's what I'm interested in exploring. Does removing DRM count as format conversion? If it does, then it's illegal, if it doesn't, then it isn't. I'd have thought there's a reasonably strong case for saying that it is format conversion.


No. If you remove DRM from a Mobi file, it's still a Mobi file; if you remove DRM from an ePub file, it's still an ePub file. You've modified the file, but you haven't changed its format. It's not illegal to modify data that you've legally bought.

mr ploppy
02-01-2012, 06:16 AM
DRM removal is not illegal in the UK; there is no law which prohibits it.

But it is outlawed by the EU Copyright Directive.

murraypaul
02-01-2012, 08:17 AM
Assuming that eBooks would be considered software, it is illegal to provide a means of circumventing DRM, or to provide information to assist in that.

Copyright, Design and Patents Act 1988:
296 Devices designed to circumvent copy-protection.

(1)This section applies where—
(a)a technical device has been applied to a computer program; and
(b)a person (A) knowing or having reason to believe that it will be used to make infringing copies—
(i)manufactures for sale or hire, imports, distributes, sells or lets for hire, offers or exposes for sale or hire, advertises for sale or hire or has in his possession for commercial purposes any means the sole intended purpose of which is to facilitate the unauthorised removal or circumvention of the technical device; or
(ii)publishes information intended to enable or assist persons to remove or circumvent the technical device.

If the removal were purely for the purposes of enabling use on a different device, the legality would depend on whether that use was an infringement of copyright.

Katsunami
02-01-2012, 08:38 AM
In the Netherlands, it's quite strange.

The law explicitly states that I may make as many copies for my personal use as I want. We even pay taxes for that, collected by "Stichting Thuiskopie". (It's collected by adding a markup/tax to many media, such as cd's, dvd's, and others.) It also states that converting the format of the data is allowed, as it is seen as a copy; as long as one uses it for personal use only.

The law also states that I may not remove or break any copy protections.

So... ehhh.... To be able to exercise the right I get with one law, I need to break another. As far as I know, none of these laws officially has a higher priority than the other.

Either way, nobody seems to care about the second law. I've never seen it enforced. As long as you don't spread any copyrighted material, nobody will make an issue if you remove the drm. And, if I don't tell anyone, who would know? There are no razzia's or random house searches (yet).

Therefore, I happilyb strip the drm from anything I buy, but I never spread copyrighted stuff.

avantman42
02-01-2012, 08:46 AM
No. If you remove DRM from a Mobi file, it's still a Mobi file; if you remove DRM from an ePub file, it's still an ePub file. You've modified the file, but you haven't changed its format. It's not illegal to modify data that you've legally bought.
I hadn't really thought of it like that, but I suspect you're right.

But it is outlawed by the EU Copyright Directive.
My understanding is that EU directives aren't enforceable in member countries until and unless the member country passes legislation to enact the directive. Or have I got that wrong?

mr ploppy
02-01-2012, 09:06 AM
My understanding is that EU directives aren't enforceable in member countries until and unless the member country passes legislation to enact the directive. Or have I got that wrong?

Member states are obliged to write directives into their national law within a set time period. I don't know how long that time period is though.

We also have this, which would fit ebooks:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyright_and_Related_Rights_Regulations_2003#Tech nical_measures

"The right is infringed by the person who knowingly removes electronic copyright management information which is associated with a copy of a copyright work, or appears in connection with the communication to the public of a copyright work"

HarryT
02-01-2012, 09:08 AM
My understanding is that EU directives aren't enforceable in member countries until and unless the member country passes legislation to enact the directive. Or have I got that wrong?

That's absolutely right. Each member state needs to pass legislation to enforce EU directives in national law.

HarryT
02-01-2012, 09:30 AM
To be honest with you, I'm not particularly bothered whether or not it's legal. I spend a great deal of money on eBooks, and I remove DRM for the sole purpose of ensuring that I'll continue to be able to read those books in the future. I don't give copies to anyone else, and hence I don't consider what I do to be "wrong". My belief is that DRM removal is not illegal in the UK, but even if it was, it wouldn't prevent me from doing what I do. Nobody's going to prosecute someone for format-shifting books which they've legally bought.

CRussel
02-01-2012, 10:11 AM
My belief is that DRM removal is not illegal in the UK, but even if it was, it wouldn't prevent me from doing what I do. Nobody's going to prosecute someone for format-shifting books which they've legally bought.

I can't believe you said that, Harry. Since I know you know better. ("but even if it were")

murraypaul
02-01-2012, 10:19 AM
That's absolutely right. Each member state needs to pass legislation to enforce EU directives in national law.

This is written into UK law:

296ZA Circumvention of technological measures

(1)This section applies where—
(a)effective technological measures have been applied to a copyright work other than a computer program; and
(b)a person (B) does anything which circumvents those measures knowing, or with reasonable grounds to know, that he is pursuing that objective.
296ZB Devices and services designed to circumvent technological measures

(1)A person commits an offence if he—
(a)manufactures for sale or hire, or
(b)imports otherwise than for his private and domestic use, or
(c)in the course of a business—
(i)sells or lets for hire, or
(ii)offers or exposes for sale or hire, or
(iii)advertises for sale or hire, or
(iv)possesses, or
(v)distributes, or
(d)distributes otherwise than in the course of a business to such an extent as to affect prejudicially the copyright owner,any device, product or component which is primarily designed, produced, or adapted for the purpose of enabling or facilitating the circumvention of effective technological measures.
(2)A person commits an offence if he provides, promotes, advertises or markets—
(a)in the course of a business, or
(b)otherwise than in the course of a business to such an extent as to affect prejudicially the copyright owner,a service the purpose of which is to enable or facilitate the circumvention of effective technological measures.
296ZD Rights and remedies in respect of devices and services designed to circumvent technological measures

(1)This section applies where—
(a)effective technological measures have been applied to a copyright work other than a computer program; and
(b)a person (C) manufactures, imports, distributes, sells or lets for hire, offers or exposes for sale or hire, advertises for sale or hire, or has in his possession for commercial purposes any device, product or component, or provides services which—
(i)are promoted, advertised or marketed for the purpose of the circumvention of, or
(ii)have only a limited commercially significant purpose or use other than to circumvent, or
(iii)are primarily designed, produced, adapted or performed for the purpose of enabling or facilitating the circumvention of,those measures.
296ZF Interpretation of sections 296ZA to 296ZE

(1)In sections 296ZA to 296ZE, “technological measures” are any technology, device or component which is designed, in the normal course of its operation, to protect a copyright work other than a computer program.
(2)Such measures are “effective” if the use of the work is controlled by the copyright owner through—
(a)an access control or protection process such as encryption, scrambling or other transformation of the work, or
(b)a copy control mechanism,which achieves the intended protection.

HarryT
02-01-2012, 11:01 AM
I would interpret all that legal mumbo-jumbo as saying that personal use is permitted.

"imports otherwise than for his private and domestic use...
"has in his possession for commercial purposes..."
"to such an extent as to affect prejudicially the copyright owner..."

LuvReadin
02-01-2012, 02:14 PM
DRM removal is not illegal in the UK; there is no law which prohibits it.

As has been said above, there are three pieces of EU legislation that cover copyright of electronic works (including literary).

European Directive 2001/29/EC, and the amendments to the Copyright Act (EU Regulation 2003/2498 EC on Copyright and Related Rights Regulations and EU Regulation 2003/2426 EC on Privacy and Electronic Communications)

These make DRM infringement identical to copyright infringement. This is made clear in section 17.2 of the British Academy's guidelines on copyright: http://www.britac.ac.uk/policy/copyright/guidelines.cfm#17

Whether it's illegal for private use is a very grey area - recording onto tape was illegal, but I doubt it stopped many people making backups of their very expensive cassettes (or CDs, DVDs or MP3s).