In a report released today, a group of lawmakers advised the government not to make DRM (digital rights management) systems mandatory, citing concerns over how the technology restricts access to digitised files.
The APPIG (All Party Parliamentary Internet Group) said it is not aware of efforts in Europe to make DRM enforced by law, although some publishing groups favour it.
Since November, APPIG has held hearings with book and music publishers, technology companies and lawyers about how to deal with increasing conflicts and concerns over DRM, releasing a 30-page report on its findings. DRM refers to encoded restrictions on how digital files can be used and manipulated.
Derek Wyatt, a member of parliament and leader of APPIG, said DRM issues are "under the radar at the moment".
Book and music publishers have strongly supported DRM technology, saying they are needed to protect unauthorised copying and preserve intellectual property. Opponents have claimed that the measures can be overly strict for those who are legitimately using the digitised works and hamper archiving in libraries.
APPIG is recommending several actions by British regulatory bodies. The UK communications regulator, Ofcom, should publish guidelines warning companies of the legal consequences of including invasive DRM technologies, Wyatt said.
Wyatt cited the situation surrounding Sony BMG Music Entertainment, which included copy-protection software on an estimated 15 million music CDs. Security experts found last year that the software installed itself without the consent of users, was difficult to remove and secretly communicated with company servers, the sort of behaviour that commonly earns software the label spyware.
The report also recommended that the UK Department of Trade and Industry investigate how DRM affects markets. Apple prices songs differently via its iTunes music stores for the UK, the rest of Europe and the US, Wyatt said.
Apple checks the address of credit-card holders to prevent purchases outside of a certain region, the report said. The company, which makes the popular iPod music player, uses DRM technology to prevent someone from buying cheaper songs and selling them elsewhere. Apple DRM also limits users to playing songs purchased from the company's iTunes Music Store only on iPods.
At a press conference today, the CEO of the British Library, Lynne Brindley, said the debate over copyright and DRM is heated and polarised, but at stake are enormous resources for the public.
Publishers have become more restrictive in how their works may be used, and the question is at what point copyright holders will relinquish their rights for the public heritage, Brindley said.
"Somewhere the balance has to be found," she said.
The copyright and DRM debate has also focused on a controversial project by Google to digitise books in five libraries in the US and one in England.
Google defends its Book Search project, saying the availability of rare works benefits authors and users, said Rachel Whetstone, Google's head of communications in Europe, who spoke at the press conference. If available, Google includes information on where to buy the books.
"We turn those searches into buyers," Whetstone said.
Google is currently being sued in the US over its online book project, which involves full scanning and indexing of the books. For the 60 percent of books with unclear copyright status, Google has put them on the internet but will withdraw the works if requested.
But Google's work has rankled with publishers, many of whom would like to see the company ask permission before scanning.
"What Google is doing there is not simply indexing," said Hugh Jones, copyright counsel for The Publishers Association, during an exchange with Whetstone. "Google is digitising the entire book."