hear of the toys called Transformers? What starts out looking like
a nice, unassuming car turns into a hulking monster with a few twists
of its pieces.
Digital rights management (DRM) is the "transformer" of the
Information Age. What started out as software technology used
to identify, secure, manage, track, and audit digital content
has become a monster of conflicting economic and public policies.
It now comes complete with voice-raising opponents, lawsuits,
business failures, and lots of consumer confusion.
In September, the Seybold San Francisco 2002 conference held
"Digital Rights Management Day: Preventing Piracy and Leveraging
Premium Content Online," a daylong program within the conference
that addressed rights management issues. For the fourth year,
Bill Rosenblatt, co-author of the Wiley-published Digital Rights
Management: Business and Technology, organized the program. He
put together four panel sessions that attracted interesting speakers
and explored current issues and business applications for DRM.
Rosenblatt's introductions and questions to panelists demonstrated
his deep knowledge of DRM issues, personalities, and controversies.
The day started with the "monster issues" of public access,
fair use, and the entertainment industry's ongoing fear of uncompensated
downloading of content. The second half of the day looked at DRM
as a helpful tool for corporate enterprises and its use by e-book
and newsletter publishers.
DRM is not only a hot topic, it's also a hot-button issue for
the music and film business as well as the software developers
who created free peer-to-peer (P2P) technologies. The program
started off with a combustible panel that featured entertainment
executive Ted Cohen, vice president of digital development and
distribution for EMI Recorded Music; Lawrence Leach, an ex-P2P
free-access developer, co-founder of Scour.com, and founder of
L2 Design; and Ed McCoyd, director of digital policy at the Association
of American Publishers. The level of heat generated by the panel
kept the room warm.
"We were closing in on 1 million users when everybody and their
mother sued us," said Leach, describing his former file-sharing
technology, Scour.com. "'Fair use' as a concept is gone, and if
it isn't gone, it's going very, very soon....Stealing is wrong,
but to confine users to only the 'uses' designated by owners is
Not so, according to Cohen. "People confuse their personal use
with the concept of fair use. People confuse the technical copyright
definition of fair use with their attitude that fair use is whatever
they want it to be, and it becomes what they want to do, when
they want to do it." Cohen staked out his claim to "reasonableness"
by saying, "I tried to get Napster and the Recording Industry
Association of America to talk to each other."
What is the motivation for communication and cooperation? According
to McCoyd, "People aren't motivated by profit. They seem to be
motivated by a sense of community." He brought up the Open eBook
Forum as an example of a positive cooperative effort by publishers
and users to set DRM standards.
Who Speaks for the Public?
In the second session of the day, panelists representing public
and industry advocacy groups and standard-setting organizations
focused on the need to protect public access to digital content
and addressed the negative consequences of recent congressional
and regulatory activity. They pondered how best to ensure that
decisions made today on DRM policy, regulation, and technical
standards do not cut off innovation, technological creativity,
or the evolution of new models for the content business.
"I can see snapshots of reasonableness coming, but everybody
has their own definition of what's reasonable," said John Erickson,
a Hewlett-Packard Labs DRM technology pioneer and member of the
OASIS Technical Committee on Rights Language. This committee will
define the industry standard for a digital rights language to
support a wide variety of business models. "We have the technology,"
said Erickson. "[The] critical question is, how can technology
and policy people do no evil?"
Jonathan Potter, executive director of the Digital Media Association,
described consumers and creators as "having a passion for each
other." In his opinion, consumers don't care about the "ownership
experience." What they want is the content. "They want what they
want, when and where they want it." Potter concluded, "If DRM
was really simple and easy, people would say: 'Bill me at the
end of the month. Don't put me in jail, just tell me what I've
"Stand up for fair rights," was Joe Kraus' rhetorical slogan.
The founder of Excite is now the co-founder of DigitalConsumer
.org, a new (created just last year) 45,000-member advocacy group
that was formed to advance consumers' rights in virtual space.
Kraus delivered a mini-lecture on fair use. He decried the "Hollywood
agenda," stating that the industry had spent $37 million on political
contributions and on lobbying Congress during the last election
cycle. "We ought to be looking for ways to prevent piracy vs.
squashing fair use," said Kraus.
'Balance' as Panacea
Everyone on the panel offered a plea for a "balanced view of
consumer/creator rights,"including Robin Gross, staff attorney
for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. However, the panelists
provided few solutions or definitions of what "balance" might
look like for consumers and creators. Rosenblatt pressed them
to come up with scenarios and concrete recommendations to recognize
the hardware, software, and creator costs that are required to
make a seamless, easy-to-use DRM system. Most shied away from
a direct response. The best suggestion came from Erickson, who
said: "We have to stop saying this is hard. Technology and standards
need to be created in a public arena [and] publicly arrived at,
with the participation of all segments of the information-using
DRM Transforms into ECM
The two afternoon sessions concentrated on the practical application
of DRM technology. DRM is now finding "traction" in the world
of enterprise content management (ECM) applications. Having started
out by selling DRM to publishers, some software companies have
seen benefits from directing their message to large corporate
"Migration into the enterprise is evidence of the health of
the DRM industry," said Rosenblatt. This view was complemented
by the experience of Integrated Management Concepts (ICM), a producer
of project-management software for huge public contracts. Chris
Taylor, ICM's vice president of product development, said the
company chose to integrate a DRM component into its product and
work flow "because our customers made it clear they wanted DRM
functionality and technology."
Corporate leakiness is like a gushing hole and DRM is the solution,
according to Kevin Weatherly of SealedMedia. The theft of proprietary
information costs U.S. business $6.6 million per year. This represents
an increase of 600 percent since 1997, according to the FBI's
2002 Computer Security Institute Study. "People cause digital
leaks," said Weatherly. DRM guards against changes in trust, providing
total confidence that information is persistently protected. Corporations
use DRM technology to ensure control and access for sensitive
data, create audit trails, and make sure embargo dates are respected.
SealedMedia uses its Web site to track reports on corporate leaks
In his solid, well-organized, and interesting presentation,
Authentica vice president Jim Hickey focused on the potential
market for DRM software to meet corporate security requirements,
ensure regulatory and government compliance, minimize legal risks,
and reduce costs in electronic-discovery proceedings. Salomon
Smith Barney, Microsoft, and Ford Motor Co. are just some of the
global businesses that use Authentica to protect their corporate
documents and processes. As a matter of fact, every morning the
CIA employs Authentica's DRM technology to secure the electronic
version of President Bush's daily briefing. (In case you're wondering,
the president prefers his copy of the briefing in print format.)
E-Books, Niche-Market DRM
Closing the program were e-book publishers Joan Mullally of
Rebus, Inc. and Paula Baker of Peachpit Press, who talked about
the operational considerations in setting rights management levels.
They both noted that DRM is providing an unanticipated benefit
by allowing editorial and marketing departments to find new ways
to connect with authors and customers. Also on the program was
Andre Delgado of WebLight Consulting, who related his experience
in creating a DRM e-mail solution for a niche newsletter publisher.
My Two Cents
Public access is an issue that librarians and the information
industry can get behind. Our industry has long advocated standards
that have been openly arrived at. Cooperative transformative processes,
rather than constant confrontation, have served well as models
for achieving change.
The entertainment industry is searching for business models
that consumers can understand and value. Members of Congress have
introduced legislationsuch as Rep. Howard Berman's Peer-to-Peer
Prevention Act billthat could transform commercial and privacy
relationships between electronic business and consumers. (See
Stephanie C. Ardito's article on p. 18 of the September 2002 issue.)
The information industry and its professions should be actively
debating and examining new proposals, such as Berman's "big stick"
approach to piracy, as well as proposals for consumer remedies,
such as DigitalConsumer.org's Consumer Technology Bill of Rights
Standing on the sidelines doesn't add to the debate and certainly
doesn't help to achieve a balance between creators' and users'
It isn't DRM technology that needs to be transformed; it's the
bombast in the rhetoric about DRM. The debate needs informed consumers,
ideas, and the expressed concerns of the content community and
Gail Dykstra is a consultant in content business development,
licensing, and digital rights management. Her e-mail address is