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Magazines > Information Today > January 2003
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Information Today
Vol. 20 No. 1 — January 2003
PSP 2003 Annual Conference
Digital Rights Management Track
by Kathy Dempsey

When I attend an information-packed conference, I'm usually not intrigued enough by any one track to stay in it for a whole day and forsake all the other offerings.  But at Internet Librarian I broke with tradition and spentan entire day in a track titled "DRM: Promise, Threat, or Tool for Libraries?" It's a shame that each session was sparsely populated, because this track had a great group of speakers and the most comfortable seats in the house. 

DRM (digital rights management) is a deep topic that even a whole day's worth of presentations couldn't completely demystify. The fact that there's no widely agreed-upon definition is further complicated by the idea that DRM solutions must serve so many people's interests: content creators, publishers, aggregators, distributors, and buyers. 

A few vendors are creating DRM software that will allow searchers to instantly clear copyright and pay for information they've found. With these digital payment tools in place, scholars can get to and use full text and have their payments go back to the publishers. Through the magic of statistics, publishers would know which authors' work made money. This way, they could hopefully go one step further and pay the appropriate copyright fees to the authors. 

Automating this process is obviously a good thing. DRM further simplifies life by allowing its users to avoid having a "patchwork quilt of agreements" (as it was labeled by Dave Davis of the Copyright Clearance Center). But designing the software is a multilayered work in progress. Although some packages are available now, vendors continue to strive for products with even greater functionality. 

Because the speakers in this track represented the interests of DRM software vendors, publishers, users, librarians, and lawyers, there wasn't a consensus or a nice end-of-day summary that I can pass along. About all everyone agreed on was that a DRM tool was necessary to handle digital information, the amount of which will only increase. Users need platform-independent access, document security, secure payment tools, excellent statistics reporting, and simple interfaces. Second-generation products are already filling some of the voids left by the first round. The following services were discussed: 

Copyright Clearance Center's Rightslink (

iCopyright's Instant Clearance Service (

SealedMedia's multi-component software product (

There was discussion of DRM eventually being "baked into" operating systems as they were built. Mike O'Donnell of iCopyright went so far as to say, "I believe that in the future, all content will be instantly licensable." That would be nice and would lessen consumer confusion considerably. But at this point, that's just speculation. 

If you want to follow this topic as digital rights management tools are created and debated, try the following sources: 

Copyright Clearance Center provides news coverage at

GiantSteps Media Technology Strategies publishes a Web site called DRM Watch ( You can sign up for e-mail updates. 

Library of Congress Copyright Office makes its NewsNet newsletter 
available at

The Software & Information Industry Association offers lots of news on DRM bills and laws at and a large bibliography at


Kathy Dempsey is editor of Computers in Libraries. Her e-mail address is
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