What You Cannot Protect, You Cannot Own
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
Theft costs the community
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
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
- 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
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
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
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
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
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
- 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
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
© The Global Standard
Howard Paul is Executive General Manager of SAI
Global Ltd, the company responsible for
the distribution and sale of Australian Standards.
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
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.