ANSI - American National Standards Institute

What You Cannot Protect, You Cannot Own

Digital Rights Management: a revolutionary copyright protection system to benefit both the owners and users of digitized intellectual property.

Howard Paul, Executive General Manager, SAI Global – Business Publishing

Bring back the lash?

Reprinted with permission from ISO Focus. Designer: Pascal Krieger.

Suppose for every banknote issued by Treasury, a counterfeit note was also put into circulation. It’s easy to predict the outrage at the devaluation of the currency, the doom-laden editorials, the fulmination of radio shock jocks, and the cries for the return of capital punishment and the lash. Those counterfeiters would soon get their comeuppance, and the world would again become a safe place for central bankers.

So our passive acceptance of the devaluation of intellectual property, where similar levels of counterfeiting are common, is both perplexing and disturbing. It suggests that, although economically we have moved into a post-industrial world where knowledge is the greatest creator of wealth, our social psyche has not yet caught up with this revolution; we still place far higher value on tangible rather than intangible property, despite the equal, or greater human effort that goes into the latter.

The abuse of intellectual property (IP) rights in general is well documented, and applies equally in the world of technical standards. Based on some work done in the US, and supported by anecdotal evidence in Europe, for every dollar we earn from the sale of Standards, we lose a further dollar to illegal copying, transmission or unlicensed use. And that’s probably a conservative estimate. Some years ago, before the digital revolution, BSI in the UK did research suggesting that every printed Standard they sold was illegally photocopied an average of five times.

Theft costs the community

Creating, maintaining and distributing a contemporary, technically valid collection of Standards is an expensive exercise, sustained by the dedication and altruism of the many thousands of experts who freely contribute their time and expertise. So every time an illegal copy is made, or a single-user electronic document is passed on or networked, it increases the cost to legitimate purchasers, and the volunteer experts have their contribution devalued.

We are not alone

The scale of copyright abuse is enormous. Based on some recent industry estimates, the US dollar losses from illegal use of material are:

  • Software Industry - US$13bn
  • Movie Industry - US$4bn
  • Standards Industry - US$1bn

This article is about emerging technologies in the area of digital products in general, and digital documents in particular, that will affect the way Standards are licensed and used in an electronic environment.

Digital Rights Management – the emerging solution

A powerful long-term solution to this widespread devaluation of intellectual property, now being explored within the international standards community, is the coordinated use of a Digital Rights Management (DRM) strategy.

What is DRM? A definition offered by the American National Institute of Standards and Technology is that “DRM is a system of IT components and services, along with corresponding law, policies and business models, which strive to distribute and control intellectual property and its rights. Product authenticity, user charges, terms-of-use and expiration of rights are typical concerns of DRM.”

In practice, it is a way of indelibly encrypting digital ‘content’ so that its future use can be inextricably tied to a particular piece of hardware, a specific user, a defined set of licensing conditions, or a pay-per-use financial arrangement.

Reprinted with permission from ISO Focus.
Designer: Pascal Krieger.

Solving the Davy Crockett problem

Why is DRM so important to standardizers? Because standards organizations have been world leaders in moving away from paper and making their intellectual property available via advanced technologies. Virtually all major national and international collections are now available for instant access via the web – standards which less than five years ago would have required days of waiting by post, or the inconvenience of a visit to a specialist bookshop are now on line. But being the leader has its problems – the Davy Crocket syndrome, with the pain of arrows in our back. The problems can best be summed up as follows:

  • In a booming global economy, where standards are being used to an ever-increasing extent, commercial revenue from the sale of standards worldwide has been flat or falling.
  • A lack of understanding – a lack of education – amongst users on the nature and economic importance of copyright in general, and in particular where electronic documents are concerned
  • Confusion and differences amongst copyright owners as to how to educate and enforce copyright (a lack of standardization!)

These are challenges that will not go away, and in the longer term they represent a danger to the health, even the very existence of standardizing organizations and the current commercial model. If nothing is done to protect against the current devaluation of copyright, then the existing ‘from the few to the many’ model could wither, at very high cost to the general community.

By deploying Digital Rights Management systems, the industry may help both itself and its customers in ensuring an equitable long-term outcome for both.

DRM – a speed camera for intellectual property

One of the problems with any new concept is trying to find a simple, and instantly comprehensible definition. That is not easy with Digital Rights Management. In some ways, it is easier to define what it is not.

  • DRM is not a single technology, but an aggregation of several intermeshed technologies.
  • DRM does not replace or substitute for copyright and legal constraints.

Perhaps the best comparison is to speed cameras. Like it or not, they help motorists comply with their driving license conditions. DRM is a tool that will help users avoid contravening their copyright licence obligations.

DRM has two aspects. Firstly, there is the Management of digital rights - how a digital product (book, film, music, software), with rights attached, can be managed. Effectively, this is the definition and licensing of rights

Secondly, there is the Digital Management of Rights. This focuses on protection; how the rights attached to the object can be enforced by processes such as encryption, watermarking and other types of access and usage control.

The other major characteristic of an effective DRM system is that it must be a unique and indelible part of the intellectual property it protects. Effectively it is a digital fingerprint, so that whenever that document is accessed, its DRM system ensures that only licensed use is permitted.

Powerful technology-how to use it?

In the era of paper, defining user rights was relatively easy, even if enforcement was difficult. With digital systems, defining a dramatically extended range of potential rights, and how they may be licensed, has not been easy, and the issues continue to be discussed. Ironically, once these rights are embedded, enforcement will be much easier in a digital universe

Where IP owners have to be careful is in not going overboard. They need to define a business model that balances their needs with the legitimate expectations of the consumer. Excessive or intrusive used of DRM technology would lead to considerable consumer resistance.

So managing the transition from a hard-copy universe to a digital universe is hard going: at its most basic, the new business models directly conflict with the old. In many businesses, successfully embracing digital distribution has meant sacrificing the favourite children of the old world.

But it works. SAI Global’s digitized services now generate over 45% of its publishing revenue, with massive cost savings and improved customer service. In other areas of digital distribution, the success of Itunes and RealNetworks shows that sensible DRM can work. Even the much-maligned Napster service has gone legal.

Defining appropriate Rights – a brave new world

The potential for DRM technology to control rights is extraordinarily powerful, and although there are a number of weaknesses and incompatibilities in currently available systems, experience shows that these will be ironed out, and that sophisticated, fundamentally transparent systems will emerge.

The object of all such systems is never to come between the user and their legitimate use of the digital product they have acquired rights to. It is to simply ensure that the user does not go beyond those rights they have acquired through appropriate payment and licensing. The only time a user should be aware of a DRM system is when they breach their licensed rights.

What are the digital rights? As with any emerging technology, the difference between the original theory, and what actually emerges in practice can be great. It is often pointed out that when the distribution of electrical power was first developed, few would have anticipated its social effects, such as high-rise building (elevators) and its contribution freeing women from the all-embracing drudgery of housework. So with Digital Rights. We cannot know the ultimate form, but as a starting point, some of the rights that could be managed include:

  • limiting document to one PC or one user
  • specifying the number of times document can be opened
  • time restrictions - view from date X to date Y
  • limit document lifetime (minutes, days, months)
  • enable or disable printing
  • define number of printed copies allowed
  • enable or disable copy/pasting facilities
  • enable or disable saving to file
  • protection against file copying
  • expiry at certain date and time
  • expiry after x hours of reading
  • allow x sections copied every y days
  • allow x sections printed every y days

The possibilities are considerable, and the introduction of DRM systems also offers the opportunity for new business models and new customer services, far more in tune with customer usage patterns and needs.

The danger – throwing out the baby, not the bathwater

Electronic sale and distribution of Standards has been the greatest single advance in the popularization and use of standards. It provides 24/7 access, and more importantly, legal networking. And although not yet apparent, it has significant potential for reducing end user cost. These benefits must not be compromised. But there are downsides from the IP owner’s viewpoint. While it is easy to control initial access to a document, it is difficult to control what people do with it afterwards. Users poorly understand that they are in serious breach of copyright when sharing files. Perfect copies can be made at the click of a mouse, and networking allows infinite, instantaneous sharing of digital content at virtually zero marginal cost.

The need for user education

But a heavy-handed approach to these issues could turn back the clock and even sacrifice revenue. The progressive introduction of DRM systems will be both a learning process for intellectual property owners, and require extensive education programs for users. IP owners, especially in the standards world, have been culpable in failing to regularly and systematically educate their users in the value and community benefit of copyright, and the illegality and economic losses where breaches occur. ISO and its members are committed to rectifying this omission, and to provide much clearer education and guidance as DRM systems begin to move into the mainstream of our distribution systems.

© The Global Standard


Howard Paul is Executive General Manager of SAI Global Ltd, the company responsible for the distribution and sale of Australian Standards.

Author’s acknowledgement

The recent ISO Copyright Workshop was the catalyst for this article. In particular, I should like to acknowledge material presented at that Workshop by Professor Alain Strowel, Universities of Brussels and Liège, Chris Barlas of Rightscom Ltd, John Pace of ASTM International, and Alan Maislisch from the IEC.

A brief history of copyright

Intellectual property is fully recognized in law, and afforded extensive protection. It wasn’t always so. Scholars in ancient Greece were the first to be concerned about being recognized as the authors of their works, but they had no economic rights. It was only with the invention of printing in the late fifteenth century that any form of copyright was devised. Before that, there was little need! Copying of manuscripts was a painstakingly slow process. And with a largely illiterate population, demand was small. In English law the first copyright act was only enacted in 1710.

Copying and distribution outside of the provisions of the current copyright legislation is illegal. It is theft. But people who would never dream of breaking into a home and stealing the family silver often don’t think twice about misappropriating the intellectual family silver though illegal copying, transmission and use. It deprives the intellectual property owner in no less a tangible way.

All saints and sinners

Copyright abuse is an area in which we are all saints and sinners. Few of us have not copied something that clearly has the © mark on it. Or taped a piece of music for a friend. No harm in that. Except that the recorded music industry estimates its annual losses in billions of dollars to illegal copying, exacerbated by the advent of digital systems where the definition of what is original and what is a copy is practically, if not legally, blurred.
ANSI Nanotechnology Standards Panel