Will the promotion of rights management technology by the EU mean the end of a competitive IT market, asks Simon Moores.
I was appalled to receive an alert from FIPR, the Foundation for Information Policy Research, which reveals that the EU’s Internal Market commissioner Frits Bolkestein, is arguing for wider adoption of rights-management mechanisms, which FIPR describes as the electronic locks.
These electronic locks will ensure, for example, that you can only use an ink cartridge from Hewlett-Packard with a Hewlett-Packard printer, or a battery made by Motorola in a Motorola mobile phone.
Not content with paving the way for US-style, business-method patents and direct software patentability of computer programs, data structures and process descriptions, which will make it near impossible for smaller, innovative companies to challenge giant multinationals, the EU appears prepared to work against the interests of its citizens.
Instead of liberalising the market in car components, as an example, it is quietly pushing forward legislation that will make the electronic accessories, such as GPS systems, even more expensive.
By strengthening the protection of rights-management technology in Europe, Brussels is playing into the hands of the monopolists, delivering the future on a plate to the companies that are rapidly ring-fencing their products and services, which include digital content, such as games, video and music, live sports coverage and any other deliverable supported by electricity and silicon.
FIPR’s chairman, professor Ross Anderson, argues that instead of promoting rights management technology, the EU should be regulating it to prevent it being abused to set up monopolies that will hinder growth and job creation.
“Rights management technology will also be used to subvert the single market - the European Union's single greatest achievement. Once most products have a software or online component, it will be legal and easy for suppliers to charge different prices to people in different European countries - and indeed to people with different income EU to promote it will undermine one of the core purposes of the European Union,” he adds.
So, as businesses become increasingly digital in delivery and content, software will provide a greater proportion of their underlying value and that means that many businesses will become more like the software businesses.
“Learning to deal with an industry that's not just globalised but software-driven will be a big challenge for governments over the next ten years,” says Anderson.
For you and me, such legislation will mean that car components may be cheaper but anything software driven will be more expensive.
And so while a chassis may hold a relatively similar price across the EU states, the final price may be determined by the electronics which, rather like ink cartridges in your printer or which radar detector might fit on your dash, the manufacturer will be able to block cheaper third-party devices completely on a country by country basis.
In my eyes, this sounds like an end to any pretence of real competition in the European technology market. Worse still, the way that copyright legislation is heading, our ability to access any form of digital information will be restricted by our ability to pay for the privilege.
Europe could have set an example for the rest of the world to follow, outside the now deeply restrictive US. Instead it appears to be offering its citizens a future of digital handcuffs and not digital rights.
Acting globally, Zentelligence (Research) advises governments, suppliers, business and the media on the evolution, application and delivery of leading-edge technologies, and specialises in the areas of e-government and information security.
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Setting the world to rights with the collected thoughts and opinions of leading industry analyst Dr Simon Moores of Zentelligence.