Friday, September 08, 2006

CDT on evaluating DRM

The Center for Democracy & Technology has just issued a report, "Evaluating DRM: Building a Marketplace for the Convergent World," that is the calmest, most rational comprehensive survey of the subject that I have yet seen. They recognize the competing interests of a large variety of stakeholders, including consumers, copyright holders, distributors, and equipment manufacturers – without name calling, ad hominem attacks, or accusations of bad faith.

An interesting aspect of the report is that, rather than trying to stake out a legal or moral position on the topic, it aims to educate reviewers of DRM systems and DRM-enabled products about the questions they should ask, and the answers they should communicate to the public.
The explosive growth of the Internet and digital media has created both tremendous opportunities and new threats for content creators. Advances in digital technology offer new ways of marketing, disseminating, interacting with, and monetizing creative works, giving rise to expanding new markets that did not exist just a few years ago. These technologies also promise to democratize the production of creative content by putting the creation and wide distribution of creative works within the reach of private individuals. At the same time, however, the technologies have created major challenges for copyright holders seeking to exercise control over the distribution of their works and protect against piracy.

Digital rights management (DRM) represents a response to these issues. DRM is designed to help content creators protect their content from widespread uncontrolled distribution. Its proponents maintain that DRM can facilitate the secure distribution of digital content in new markets and help fuel new business models that exploit the power of digital media and the Internet, giving consumers many more choices. Critics, meanwhile, contend that DRM will do little to stop piracy, and that its main effect may be to frustrate consumers' ability to take advantage of the full power of digital media...

For now, and for the foreseeable future, it is the market rather than the government that is likely to play the primary role in shaping DRM.

As DRM increasingly becomes integrated into media that consumers purchase, it will be important for the public and product reviewers to understand how to evaluate the impact of DRM on the media user’s experience. Different DRM systems will provide different capabilities for users. An informed base of consumers capable of comparing products and expressing and acting on their preferences is essential to ensuring that the marketplace for digital media products and services is diverse, competitive, and responsive to reasonable consumer expectations...

We suggest specific questions that consumers and reviewers should be asking about media devices and services incorporating DRM. These “metrics” for DRM include: Transparency – Is there clear disclosure to users of the effects of DRM? ... Effect on Use – What are the specific parameters and limitations for the use of a work? ... Collateral Impact – Does a DRM technology have any other potential impact on a user, apart from its effects on the user’s use of the particular work? ... Purpose and Consumer Benefit– Does it appear that DRM is being used to innovate and facilitate new business models that fill previously unaddressed demand and give consumers new choices? ...

CDT believes that, in applying metrics for DRM, it is important to consider a forward-looking frame of reference as well: specifically, what an honest and law-abiding consumer could do with networked, general purpose computers and open-format media. In such an open-media environment, devices are freely interoperable. Content can be readily moved across home and personal networks, converted to different formats, and accessed on several devices. Consumers are able to easily transfer and access their content from diverse locations over the Internet. Wide personal and transformative uses of content are possible, limited only by the imagination of technologists in devising new ways to manipulate digital data.

Content owners will object that it is not reasonable to expect protected digital media to live up to such a standard. After all, completely unprotected media of the kind envisioned in the open media environment is easily susceptible to massive piracy. This is a fair observation. Our point is not that everything that is possible with unprotected content on general purpose computers should be immediately possible for DRM-protected media, nor that every deviation from the open media environment is somehow harmful or unfair.

Rather, using the open media environment as a frame of reference helps illustrate the technical choices and tradeoffs associated with DRM. In a world of technological convergence and digital media, there is no technical reason why content cannot be distributed with the flexibility that networked, general purpose computer architecture can provide. There may be economic, business model, or legal reasons for taking a different approach. But consumers and product reviewers seeking to evaluate DRM should have a clear picture of the tradeoffs that have been made in each of the areas described in the metrics.



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