Academic journal article LIBRES: Library and Information Science Research Electronic Journal

Digital Rights Management and Access to Information: A Developing Country's Perspective

Academic journal article LIBRES: Library and Information Science Research Electronic Journal

Digital Rights Management and Access to Information: A Developing Country's Perspective

Article excerpt


Digital rights management systems (DRMs) together with technological protection measures (TPMs) have become a controversial topic of discussion around copyrighted works, particularly since the controversial Sony BMG case. This paper addresses some of the concerns around TPM-enabled digital rights management systems as they apply to and impact on developing countries. It highlights issues such as digital censorship, international support for digital rights management and the current legislation in South Africa relating to digital rights management. It also discusses types of digital rights management systems and how they affect access to information and knowledge, as well as their impact on the public domain and privacy. The paper provides some recommendations and challenges to librarians and educators in South Africa and for librarians in other developing countries, on how to address digital rights management issues in relation to their obligations and mandates to provide users and learners with unrestricted access to information.


Throughout history, librarians and educators have been called upon to combat censorship imposed by various powers over the flow of information.

Today, the "censorship" being applied in the digital environment comes in the form of licences and digital rights management that lock away the tools to build the information age, as well as restrictive copyright laws that limit, or block, fair use in ways that are unprecedented in the modern era. As a result, a scarcity of information is created, where the tools to unlock this information are controlled by a few (mainly multinationals). ("Why should open...", p.1)

Librarians continue to have the explicit responsibility of protecting access to information, with a special obligation to ensure the free flow of information to the widest possible audience, and for future generations. Librarians support copyright, that is, balanced copyright. However, they are concerned at the growing imbalance of copyright laws in favour of rights-holders, and to the detriment of users of copyrighted information.

"The greatest resource for development is the human resource. In the information society, this means that an educated population is essential for economic progress" (International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions. Library Copyright Alliance and Electronic Information for Libraries, 2007, p. 2). Libraries build capacity by promoting information literacy and providing support and training for the effective use of information resources. Restrictive copyright laws negatively affect the core business of libraries. Now copyright is being extended beyond the realm of protection - into the realm of complete control over works, either through restrictive legislation, licensing or by digital rights management systems.

What is digital rights management or DRM?

Digital rights management (DRM) refers to "a collection of systems used to protect the copyrights of electronic media. These include digital music and movies, as well as other data that is stored and transferred digitally" (DRM (Digital Rights Management, [n.d.]). DRM is a system of information technology components and services, along with corresponding law, policies and business models, which strive to distribute and control intellectual property and its rights. Product authenticity, user charges, terms-of-use and expiration of rights are typical concerns of DRM. (Lyon, 2002, p. 4) "DRM systems comprise a number of technological components, which can include encryption, a surveillance mechanism, databases of works, owners and users, license management functionality and technological protection measures (TPMs)" (Cameron, 2007, p.1). DRMs are also known as electronic copyright management systems, or Intellectual Property Management and Protection Systems.

DRMs generally fall into two categories: digital rights management systems that do not utilize technological protection measures and those that do. …

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