and Rights Management
1 The new Tower of Babel
From the Bible, Genesis 11:1-9:
No citation comes handier than this one to comment on the
miserable state of the debate on media, digital media, rights, rights management,
content protection and – most of all – Digital Rights Management (DRM). The
mess is all man-made as, apparently, there has been no direct divine intervention
that we are aware of.
Purpose of this paper is to clarify some of the issues that
appear more confused in the debate and indicate an avenue of development.
Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As men moved
eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.
They said to each other: “Come, let's make bricks and bake them thoroughly”.
They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said: “Come,
let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so
that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of
the whole earth”.
But The Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the men were
building. The Lord said: “If as one people speaking the same language they
have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for
them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand
So The Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped
building the city...
2 Rights Management
Apparently many consider rights management as one
evil result of digital technologies. Purpose of this chapter is to show how rights
management is an issue that is at least 2,000 years old, but probably more.
2.1 Rights Management in the 1st century AC
In the 1st century AC, Marcus Valerius Martialis,
a Latin poet, had the problem that somebody was presenting Martial’ epigrams
as his. This is the "rights management" problem statement that he wrote in epigram I. 52 :
(I entrust our booklets to you, Quintianus, if I
“ours” the booklets your poet recites...)
Those were not easy years for creators,
unless you could count on a patron like Horace. So poor Martial can only suggest
that his friend Quintianus helps him by doing the following:
Commendo tibi, Quintiane, nostros -
Nostros dicere si tamen libellos
Possum, quos recitat tuus poeta...
(...when he will call himself “owner”, tell him that they
are mine and were released by me. If you will repeat this claim three or
four times, you will impose a sense of shame on that thief)
It is not known how effective this strategy
- clearly a (very soft) forerunner of today’s “notice and take down” - has been in silencing
the "thief", called plagiarist by Martial. This is actually the first time the
word was used with today’s meaning (the original meaning was “abductor”).
... cum se dominum vocabit ille,
Dicas esse meos manuque missos.
Hoc si terque quaterque clamitaris,
Impones plagiario pudorem.
2.2 Rights Management in 1515 AD
Ludovico Ariosto, the author of the epic poem
"Orlando Enraged" was afraid that people would copy his poem without rewarding him.
As he lived in the city of Ferrara, whose lord was Duke Alfonso d’Este, he could
not lobby any member of parliament, because there was none. So he wrote a very
precise business proposition to the Duke:
It is not know how well the proposal captured the
eyes and ears of
the duke Alfonso d’Este, but it is reasonable to assume that the proposal went nowhere.
“YOU fine those who pirate my works and WE share the proceeds”
2.3 Rights Management in 1710 AD
Gutenberg’s invention gave the possibility to produce a large
number of books using machines operated by humans instead of learned amanuenses.
But once a book, with all the investment that is needed to publish it, is "out there"
and “sells”, anybody can reprint it and sell it in competition with the original
publisher, with much less effort but comparable gain.
This is the problem the British publishers, 200 years after
Ludovico Ariosto’s proposal to the Duke of Ferrara, submitted to the English
Parliament. The following prose:
shows that the workings of democracy are more efficient than
those of absolutism in channeling organised voices. The following prose:
Whereas some printers and publishers have of late frequently taken the
liberty of printing, reprinting and republishing books without the consent
of Authors or Proprietors of such Books.
in the preamble of the Queen Anne’s Act ,
To stimulate the flow of knowledge for the encouragement of the learned
Men to compose and write useful books
justifies the establishment of copyright and provides the
legal means to enforce such right.
... for the Encouragement of Learning, by Vesting the Copies of Printed
Books in the Authors or Purchasers of such Copies, during the Times therein
2.4 Rights Management in 1886 AD
Right to copy is an important right, good for publishers.
But an author has other needs as well, not necessarily the same as the
publisher. For instance, as an author I want to be
and, by the way, I would also like to be able to exercise
those rights internationally. The response to this request was the Berne Convention
for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works , an international treaty
that established such rights within the members of a Union, leaving to the signatories the task to actually
enact the necessary legislation in their jurisdictions.
It is important to note that the Berne Convention takes a
balanced approach because, while supporting authors’ needs to manage their rights,
it also provides exceptions, e.g.:
- Claim authorship of a work I created
- Object to any distortion or mutilation which would be prejudicial to my honour or reputation
- Authorise the reproduction of my work
- And many others...
- Different media types are protected for different periods of time;
- Quotations from a work made available to the public are permitted;
- Works can be used by way of illustration in publications, broadcasts or sound or visual recordings for teaching;
- Reproduction of works in certain special cases is permitted.
2.5 Rights Management in 1970 AD
In order to improve the ability to manage published books,
publishers would like to be able to uniquely identify any book published internationally.
This demand, originated by a British publisher, eventually led to ISO 2108:2005 Information and documentation –
International standard book number (ISBN) . This employs a 10-digit number
called International Standard Book Number (ISBN) that can be printed on the
cover of all books to achieve the stated goal.
ISBN lends itself to the implementation of
efficient right management systems. One of them is to have the clerk at a
bookstore automatically read the ISBN code when a book is sold. A computer can
easily manage the inventory and report sales back to the publisher.
2.6 Rights Management in 1992 AD
With technology, especially the digital variety, providing
more functionality at the end-user level, some value chain users, such as music
publishers, would like to be able to determine how many copies customers
can make of a given recording.
The technical solution is easy: put a code in the audio material
describing what end users can do. In the United States the enforcement task is taken care of by Audio Home Recording Act of 1992  that imposes a Serial Copy Management
System (SCMS) regime in all digital recording equipment.
2.7 Rights Management in 2001
The Queen Anne’s Act and the Berne Convention take a rather
conservative view in their support to “rights holders” wishes. Rights holders
simply reserve all rights when they release a work or publication. Actually there
are rights holders, who are willing to retain and manage only a subset of the
rights that legislation grants them, because this gives them more freedom to
manage the value of their content.
This problem has been tackled by Creative Commons (CC) 
which has defined 4 types of use:
Licensees are granted 5 baseline rights:
- Attribution, i.e. give credit to rights holder: yes/no
- Commercial use, i.e. make commercial use: yes/no
- Derivative works, i.e. make derivative work: yes/no
- Share alike, i.e. share under a license identical to the original: one yes/no
Out of theoretically possible 16 licenses 11 have been
actually drafted in US legal terms and translated into legal expressions valid
under other jurisdictions.
Those who wish to publish their works with a Creative Commons license can do
so by stating their intention and by indicating the type of license they adopt.
- Change format
3 Rights Enforcement
With the exclusion of poor Martial’s case, all systems devised
to manage rights have to eventually rely on law. This is no surprise since it
is the law that originally grants the rights. In some cases, however, like
in the USA Audio Home Recording Act, the intervention of law is more mediated,
as it mandates what a playback device should do actually to exist as a device.
How is rights enforcement actually carried out?
there are manifold ways, of which a few examples are provided here:
A large number of technologies for Rights Management have
been invented. So far we have mentioned:
- Collective Management Societies enforce authors’ rights by sending
their inspectors where works of authors they represent are performed;
- Devices complying with Technical Protection Measures (TPM) correctly execute the code contained in the content;
- A properly designed device reads watermarking information to
determine ownership or use of a media item;
- A signal is descrambled using a key to get a usable signal;
However, it is unfortunate that Rights Management has become such an ambiguous term because
- Identification technologies: e.g., IBSN, ISRC, ISWC, ISAN etc.;
- Rights expression technologies: e.g. the 2 bits – 4 states of
SCMS: copy always, copy once, copy no more, copy never;
- Watermarking: embed a signal in the actual content;
- Encryption: scramble the bits to make them useless unless a
key is used to return the bits to a usable state.
Therefore, for the purpose of progressing the analysis I will introduce
a definition of Digital Rights Management (DRM). This is a derivative of the
NIST definition of DRM :
- Strictly speaking it only means “management” 1;
- But it is also used to include “enforcement” techniques, e.g.
via TPM, as these are often a necessary complement to management;
- To make things worse some people use Rights Management, especially DRM
- the Digital variety of it - to mean only “protection”.
DRM System: A system of Information Technology components
and services which strives to distribute and control content and its rights.
This operates in an environment driven by law, policies and business models.
The Open Digital Rights Language (ODRL) Initiative , an
international effort aimed at developing and promoting an open standard for
the Digital Rights Management expression language, has expressed the CC licenses
using ODRL. Ergo, if a rights holder publishes his work using a CC license expressed
in ODRL, an excellent tool to augment the value of CC content by facilitating
rights management, the rights holder
is employing a DRM technology.
4 What should we do of DRM?
The question is very pertinent because rights management
is a natural consequence of this special type of property that today we call
Intellectual Property (IP) but has been around for at least 2000 years in the
Western civilisation. The fact that people have started making use of Information Technology is just a natural step: DRM technologies have been
with us from at least the time mainframes have been used byCollective
Management Societies and major media companies as a means to streamline rights
and assets management.
Looking around we see that several major technology market
players have developed DRM solutions to various degrees of completeness (Apple,
DivX Networks, Google, IBM, Microsoft, Real Networks etc.) and several major
market players are offering media services that rely on DRM solutions (Apple,
Google, MSN, Napster, OD2, Yahoo!, etc.).
The reason why DRM has become such a hard issue
in the media is because end users
are facing unexpected constraints on their expected use of media. For some
time there has been a flurry of writings,
some of which seem to bring us back 200 years ago to England at the time
of the industrial revolution.
It is of course understandable that individuals facing the
unexpected react with an attitude of refusal. Less so if professional writers
make arguments against DRM – of course implying the only “protection” component of
it, never mind “management” – that boil down to the refusal of the technology
because “ it will never work”, “ only media behemoths stand to gain”, “ users
only stand to lose from DRM” etc.
The problem is that saying these things, to some of which
I largely subscribe, leads us nowhere, if there is no plan B to put in place
that is not calling back DRM endeavours. This is not going to happen because everybody in
the business senses that the mythical information society is going to be based
on how trading of IP will happen and DRM, whatever its definition and its
eventual shape, is going
to be the way to go.
What if you are not one of those companies betting their
future on the use of DRM? Doing nothing is still a valid option even though DRM will affect you.
But never mind, ostriches are not an endangered species
in spite of their inclination to bury their heads in the sand when a danger
approaches. Still, I believe humans should be able to devise a better strategy.
Mine starts by highlighting the fact that the way DRM is currently
developing is not in the interest of creators and end users but generally also not in
the interest of many industry players. This should be clear from the following
- incomplete - list, where you see that the use of DRM can:
It is clear that many an industry player can see a benefit
in one of the bulleted points listed as shortcomings. The problem is that to
any of those points there is a host of other industry players, including creators
and end users who object to it. This is the real mess we are in with DRM as
- Require the setting up of an entire value chain, typically based
on proprietary technologies;
- Be costly because most technologies are proprietary with little
economy of scale;
- Make it difficult to experiment new business models;
- Raise the entry barrier to a value chain;
- Give rights holders full control of what happens downstream
in the value chain;
- Limit what end-users have grown accustomed to consider the
way to use media;
- Disable many interesting uses of media that were enabled by digital
A level play field is needed, but what is currently being done to remedy some of the DRM shortcomings?
The not particularly original answer is to make a “DRM conversion box”. The idea is that everybody
can go on with his own individual choices of technology because there will
eventually be somebody else
who will make and handle a box where a content item with one DRM enters and the
same content item with a different DRM leaves the conversion box.
Examples of “common formats” or “intermediate formats” –
the technology enabling conversion boxes – litter the Information and Communication
Technology (ICT) landscape. None of them is known to have been adopted in any
significant way. Therefore there is little or no hope that a “DRM conversion
box” will ever be accepted in the market place if one considers that past examples
were just “technology boxes”, not a “business box” as a “DRM conversion box”
is, for all practical purposes.
For somebody who has witnessed decades of
troubles created by communication systems defined and deployed without
coordination, it is - I believe - natural to observe that human life seems to
have been designed so that that every new generation can repeat exactly the same
mistakes of the old one.
5 The DRM plan B
But relax, there is a plan B. It is called interoperable
and scalable DRM (isDRM) and is based on the following principles:
Which are the advantages of isDRM?
- Study what value chain users do
- Define the functions executed by value chain users in an industry-agnostic fashion;
- Define “primitive functions” so as to maximise their re-use across functions (so-called “componentisation”);
- Standardise basic DRM technologies (called “Tools”) with the following features
- Tools implement “ primitive functions”;
- Interoperability is achieved at the level of “primitive
- Make Tools accessible
- As reference software;
- At RAND terms (IP);
- Reference software modules have
- If possible an Open Source license;
- Otherwise a “use/modify/redistribute” license;
- Do the work in phases
- Start with simple use cases;
- Gradually extend technology coverage.
But, foremost, interoperable and scalable DRM makes a clear business proposition: to
- Specifications are industry agnostic
- You build the value chain you need without alien “business model strings” attached;
- Value chains are built by combining Tools drawn from the toolbox;
- Capabilities of a value-chain can be extended
- By adding more Tools to your solution, if and when needed;
- Plug in your technology so that it fits in the framework;
- Access to standardised Tools has reduced cost because Tools
- Can be re-used;
- Are provided by multiple suppliers;
- Value chains are interoperable
- Within value chain of the same type;
- Between different value chains;
- Innovation can be continuously fed into the
- Technology-wise, because of the Tool
- Business-wise because setting up new
value chains is easy.
- Rights holders
- You can choose the value chain that suits your needs;
- With a low barrier to entry;
- You can setup a broad variety of business models – old
- You have simple access to the necessary technologies;
- End users
- You are freedom to choose the content you need from the source you want;
- You retain most of the rights and usages traditionally enjoyed,
6 How real is plan B?
Implementing plan B is the task of the
Digital Media Project
(DMP), a not-for-profit organisation registered in Geneva , with the mission
promote the development, deployment, and use of digital media that safeguard
the rights of creators to exploit their works, the wish of end-users to fully
enjoy the benefits of digital media and the commercial interests of value-chain
players to provide products and services.
... the goal is achieved through the development of technical
DMP started as a grass-roots movement on the Internet with
the Digital Media Manifesto
 with a strong end-user focus, e.g.
DMP has a strict process followed in the
development of specifications:
DRM may disable certain traditional end-user
rights and usages (TRU), e.g. privacy, freedoms to use content, continuous
access to content etc.
End users should be given the opportunity to
contribute to standards. e.g. on public mailing lists, as independent
These are the main DMP milestones
- For each phase, use cases deemed to be significant are identified and documented;
- Primitive functions required to implement the selected use cases are singled out;
- Requirements for primitive functions are developed through inputs from relevant value-chain users;
- Calls for proposals for Tools with the identified requirements are issued;
Tools are selected, documented through an open process. DMP
favours Tools that have already been developed, standardised or adopted by
other bodies, possibly adapting them to DMP needs;
- Specifications of how Tools can be assembled to implement the selected
use cases are developed;
- In subsequent phases, calls for proposals for additional Tools needed
to support new primitive functions or additional functionalities of existing
Tools are issued.
Specifications for Portable Audio
and Video (PAV) Devices  in April 2005 (completed). PAVs are devices that cannot be
connected directly to the network.
Specifications for Stationary
Audio and Video (SAV) Devices  in February 2006. SAVs are devices that can
be connected to the network or to a broadcast channel.
Release in July 2006 of
- Reference software
- Conformance testing
- Mapping of traditional rights and usages (TRU) to the digital space.
DRM or Digital Rights Management is a term that represents
the latest phase of support of the deep-rooted desire of rights holders
to manage their content when it is released for publication.
DRM can take many
forms: management, protection or a combination of both, of course, as the
D implies, using digital technologies. DRM does NOT imply protection.
Industry has already made huge investments in the development
of DRM solutions, but the lack of interoperability between DRM solutions, along
with serious limitations to what end users have been accustomed to expect from
digital media, is a source of concern to many.
Far from blasting DRM as an evil design, this paper has taken
the approach that the technology component of DRM can become a liberating technology
from which all stakeholders, particularly creators and end users but without
excluding intermediaries, can stand to gain if DRM is defined just right. A
healthy market can then be built on top.
- M. Valeri Martialis Epigrammaton,
- The Statute of Anne, 1710,
- Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works,
- Frequently Asked Questions about the new ISBN standard,
- United States Public Law 102-563 Audio Home Recording Act of 1992,
- Creative Commons,
- NAVSHP (FP6) DRM Requirements Report, 2
- The ODRL initiative,
- The Digital Media Project,
- The Digital Media Manifesto,
- Interoperable Digital Rights Management Platform, Technical Specification,
- Draft Interoperable Digital Rights Management Platform, Technical Specification,
1 - From the Webster’s: the conducting or
supervising of something (as a business)
2 - The document has been withheld by the