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IP, managing digital rights and content - RTD problems and opportunities - El.pub Analytic No. 10

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The uncertain legal situation of IP
Expanding digital content - growing IP problems
Content ownership versus content consumption
DRM development
Are current fears realistic?
Researching the market not the technology
Content management
CMS and knowledge management
CMS users and personalisation
Requirements for managing knowledge
Directions for CMS RTD
References and further recent information
Comment on this issue of Analytic

DRM development

It is apparent from the preceding arguments that the environment in which DRM systems will operate in future is unclear. At the same time major companies such as Microsoft and IBM are developing systems that they hope will be widely used.

At the INFORM Project Barcelona workshop ("Content and Knowledge: RTD issues") the session on DRM raised a number of issues of which the one of most note is probably that of standardisation. Delgado, in his paper: "Standardisation initiatives around Digital Rights Management" [5] listed the wide variety of standardisation projects around the world, and Nesi, in his paper: "Multimedia Music Distribution and Fruition" [6] considered the specific situation with regard to music.

Standardisation is required to allow interoperability and open standards are required, to develop a competitive market in the devices and software used to render content and distribute content freely.

Are current fears realistic?

There are significant areas for RTD in relation to DRM that are not being exploited. At present the major focus can be seen as directed at ensuring payment by the user and limiting the later uses to which the content is put, such as copying. The approaches proposed essentially rely on identifying the user and checking his rights and then enforcing those rights at the point of use.

In the pre-digital era the de facto approach was to transfer rights to the user at the point of payment and then leave the user free to do as he wished except in cases of major competition with the IP owner. This approach applied to books, magazines, records and videos - the main content markets. The existence of means of subverting the principles - lending or giving books and magazines to friends, selling second hand books at a discount, copying records and video to tape - has not evidently restrained the market growth over the past 100 years. It has limited the sort of unrest that leads to governments tilting the laws in favour of the consumer. The recent attacks on patents in relation to drug prices in developing countries shows that this is a real possibility.

The shift to digital content can upset the balance, but it is not clear that it has to. All the evidence from the past is that if it is only a little difficult to do something of low importance (to the individual), it will stop the majority of people spending their free time doing it. Selling content on fixed media that cannot easily be copied, may solve the problem with regard to consumers.

Foregoing the cost saving on online delivery is a cost/price/market decision for companies to make in the light of research. There will no doubt be some market segments - children and videogames, students and popular music - where the value of the users time is so low that they will go to extraordinary lengths to foil the system, but one must doubt whether the results are really market threatening.

Researching the market not the technology

DRM research could be much more focussed on determining the balance that consumers are prepared to accept willingly and its market consequences. At present too much of the development accepts a model of the future market that ignores consumer privacy, assumes that any technical method envisaged will be forced on the consumer through legislation, and accepts a very anti-competitive attitude in everything except the content itself (for example in DRM solutions and functionality in consumer hardware).

This view is similar to that held by the telecommunications industry prior to deregulation: "If you want to use my (monopoly) telephone network you will have to buy my telephone, in my showroom, installed by my engineers at whatever price I choose." One group in the ongoing arguments about DVD, for example, certainly think the issue is more about licensing DVD players than protecting content on DVD disks.

The questions that are important for the future, but not yet answered, concern the "real" reaction of consumers to a digital world. We have not yet reached a state where "our" content is available anywhere, anytime. We don't even have a clear idea of the devices we might use or the way the content might be stored. In a "grid-enabled world", we might hold all "our" content in a central depository, accessible via personal authentication (smart card equivalent). What DRM does that enable? In a micro-storage world (terabyte cards) we might carry our personal computing environment with all "our" content in our pocket and plug it into any device we come across. These two scenarios (of many) are close to being technically feasible, interoperable and realistic. Do we have DRM to support them? Are the current proposals relevant to them?

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