Information Today
Volume 19, Issue 10 November 2002
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IT Report from the Field
Where Is DRM Headed Now?
A daylong Seybold program addressed important rights management issues
by Gail Dykstra

Ever 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.

Piracy Wars

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, 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, "'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 wrong."

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 used.'"

"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 public."

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 customers.

"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 Leaks

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 legislation—such as Rep. Howard Berman's Peer-to-Peer Prevention Act bill—that 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'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' rights.

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 information professionals.


Gail Dykstra is a consultant in content business development, licensing, and digital rights management. Her e-mail address is

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