When news broke last week that Dutch ebookstores would soon be required to share customer info with the anti-piracy group BREIN, many customers (and retailers) were dismayed that their info would be shared with an organization that has such a checkered past.
Even I had concerns that sharing the data might violate European consumer privacy laws, and it looks like I am not the only one. A Dutch MP has fired off a series of questions to the Dutch Ministry of Security and Justice, asking the Ministry to look into whether this proposed sharing of customer info is legal under Dutch privacy laws.
Astrid Oosenbrug (Labor) wants the Ministry to confirm that the new contract between ebookstores and Centraal Boekhuis, the main Dutch ebook distributor, does contain the requirement that the ebookstore share customer info with BREIN. She also asks whether the sharing of that info is legal under Dutch law, and whether it is legal to require ebookstores to store the customer info for 2 years.
Oosenbrug goes on to ask whether the info being shared is enough evidence to prove that the original customer was responsible for pirating the ebook in question, and she also wants to know whether it is legal to sell ebooks in the Netherlands and if so, how that would affect this situation.
This last is particularly interesting because it would create a new defense against piracy accusations. All you would have to do is to say you sold the ebook before it was pirated; who could prove otherwise? Of course BREIN being BREIN and the Dutch legal system being what it is I don’t think this defense would carry much weight.
Oosenbrug’s questions were posted last week, so of course there is no answer just yet.
I don’t know about you but I am really looking forward to when the questions are answered. If the Dutch Ministry of Security and Justice finds that either storing the customer info or sharing the customer info with a third party like BREIN violates Dutch privacy laws, then that finding could throw a wrench in the works.
One of the core ideas of digital watermarks is that it is a type of DRM that can be used to identify who bought each copy of an ebook, thus enabling publishers to sue pirates without in any way troubling the average consumer.
If you make it harder to identify a customer, then digital watermarks will be less useful as an anti-piracy tool. Of course, there’s little solid evidence to show that piracy is a problem. You can even find the odd publisher who is willing to admit it.
This situation in the Netherlands is important not just because it affects Dutch ebookstores but also because it could be a bellwether for the rest of Europe. Many European countries have similar privacy laws, so if this anti-piracy scheme is found to violate privacy laws in the Netherlands then it will likely violate the laws of one or more other countries in the EU.