The Munich Circle
Telling a friend that I was going to participate in an event of the Münchner Kreis (the Munich circle?!) he looked at me as if I were going to a conspiratorial circle’s meeting. In fact it is simply "a supranational association for communication research", and DRM has already been a topic on their agenda for a while. The conference was a one day event with 10 presentations and a larger space for discussion towards the end. Although in terms of speakers and participants (conference material below) the event had a strong national bias, the issues dealt with are by nature of wider interest. Industry (Bertelsmann Music Group, Philips Corporate Technologies, Microsoft Germany, Deutsche Telekom, and Vodafone), researchers and consultants contributed to the conference. Open Source evangelist Bruce Perens, Berkley, and information scientist Rainer Kuhlen (during the debate) raised their voices as Digital User Rights advocates. Arnold Picot, chairman of the board of directors of Münchner Kreis, framed the conference with an introduction and a closing remark. About 200 participants attended.

General Impression
To start with a general impression: at this conference actors and positions appeared to be more flexible than in earlier days of DRM debate. Content providers acknowledged the role of IT-companies, and even thanked Apple for paving the way — of course the iTunes hymn was sung at various times this day. Music industry has lessons learnt accepting music downloads as new distribution channel and the challenges this new business implies. In a mid-term perspective Bertelsmann expects an oligopolistic market, and of course to become a major player alongside Apple. In contrast to earlier debates, industry now puts forward that the hassle for consumers has to be definitely reduced to make DRM solutions acceptable. Even fervent advocates of consumer concerns were well received at the conference. All in all, confrontation seems less attractive in the light of envisaged win-win situations. It would be interesting to know if this kind of responsive and almost playful interaction was simply due to the thoughtful arrangement of invited speakers by the organizers or can be taken as a sign of a new trend.

Consumer Concerns
Concentrating on consumer concerns, there was obviously a common understanding prevailing that the hassle with DRMs for consumers has to be reduced, and at best consumers ought to be integrated more consciously in new business models. This was more than pure lip service as it materialised in three strands of thought: first, basic forms of usage of non-protected media ought to be preserved when shifting to DRMs-protected media, e.g. users should be enabled to play and use content on all devices they own. For example Philips is developing an approach, presented by Alty van Luijt, which assumes that a user’s presence is represented by the presence of his mobile phone. Accordingly, rights objects stored in the SIM can be transferred to stationary consumer equipment by near-field communication (NFC). Second, "unobtrusive DRM", which might cover watermarks as well as identification methods was regarded as a promising approach to ease the life of consumers. Forensic watermarks as well as "Light Weight DRM" operate at this level. A forensic watermark is ideally a digital signal marking the copyright owner within a digital media object, hard to detect, hard to attack, and surviving conversion to analogue forms. In contrast digital fingerprints and "signcryption" (as used in LWDRM) identify specific individual users purchasing or delivering a digital object. Even Bruce Perens was in favour of forensic DRM as it does not criminalize consumers beforehand — the mere threat of being potentially detected was assumed to have the desired effects. Third, a new role can be assigned to consumers as part of the distribution and business model coupled with incentives. The corresponding buzzword "superdistribution" was mentioned in practically all presentations. The basic idea behind the word is to combine the free (re)distribution of digital goods by consumers with a mechanism to generate revenue if and only if the new recipient is about to use the good. Rolf Schuster of Vodafone and Willms Buhse, a former Bertelsmann employee now with CoreMedia, alluded at the new OMA 2 standard (Open Mobile Association) just released and to concrete superdistribution projects underway for mobile music based on OMA.

Categorisation of DRM Approaches
The talk by Rüdiger Grimm, security expert and professor for multimedia applications at TU Ilmenau, offered an interesting categorisation of DRM approaches. He starts from the assumption of an intrinsic dilemma: providers of digital content may claim and define their intellectual property rights, but ultimately they depend on the consumer’s willingness to conform to the rules — as long as the enduser owns his or her computer device. Here is where DRM comes in: the first option to enforce the rights of rightsholders, in other words to make consumers behave compliant with the rules set, is enforcement by technology. In this case users have no choice but to behave as the DRM-system demands (or to crack the protection mechanism). Consumers conform to the rules because they must. That’s what Lawrence Lessig has termed "code as code" and written a book about (Lessig 1999). Second option, consumers adhere to the rules, because they don’t dare to break them, due to the risk of being detected and the disadvantages this might cause. This can be achieved by tracing, tracking and identification technologies. Third, consumers conform to the rules because they want to, due to incentives and advantages they expect, e.g. receiving commissions for attracting new consumers.

Unlawful User Behaviour
Prof. Dr. Ulrich Sieber, director of the Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Criminal Law, Freiburg, shed light on a special kind of user behaviour, namely unlawful or criminal behaviour. He was very much in favour of a systematic analysis of crime instead of talking of "piracy" in general terms. In addition to a classification of crimes he also proposed to distinguish types of perpetrators (mere private users, hobby-hackers who understand their behaviour as sport, dealers, and organized crime). He also provided some statistical data on lawsuits in Germany: there were 2,727 cases of software piracy, of which 780 were classified as professional and 1.947 as private, referring to 2002; there were 7,311 cases of copyright law infringements, of which only a few were concerned with piracy in the audio sector, and there were 5.902 cases of fraud related to "unauthorized access to communication services". The last figure might be compared with Premiere, the German payTV channel’s complaint about 500.000 illegal users — the number of subscribers being 2.908 million at the end of 2003. Sieber ended his talk identifying shortcomings in current legislation and proposing a reform. Present German legislation allows the prosecution of infringements aiming at commercial exploitation but leaves too much freedom for private users and hobby hackers. He spoke of "a privilege for private attacks" on DRMs. There were some critical murmurs to be heard at this stage, but they did not mature to an articulated statement during the debate.

Other Issues
During discussions other issues and open questions came up. To pick up just two of them:
  • Werner-Christian Guggemos, an eBook publisher from Munich, complained about providers of DRMs. Available DRM-technology was too limited to the basic usage forms and neglected additional usage forms, hindering user acceptance. The DRMs still lack transparency for users and are still too unstable — which by the way reminds of the early days of e-money schemes on Internet. Small changes of the user’s IT-configuration might render the use of the system impossible. He also criticised that datamining was an inherent feature of many DRM-systems, which many end-users would not appreciate and which again might hinder acceptance.
  • One of the most interesting questions put forward was about DRM for ordinary people. The answer from the podium was a reference to the "creative commons license", which by the way will be launched in Germany in June at the WOZ conference. But I guess that the person raising the question was also thinking of DRMs to be applied by any owner of content, anyone with a homepage and some content to offer to the public. In my view everyman’s DRM is an important but severely neglected topic.

Bottom Line
Less confrontation among players, basic user concerns more widely acknowledged, unobtrusive forensic DRM instead of pre-emptive DRM, superdistribution hot, three ways to make users adhere to rules: by pre-emptive technical measures, by risks of negative consequences, by incentives; four types of perpetrators breaking the rules. Further topics: DRMs solutions neglecting content provider requirements, and DRMs for everyone.


About the author: Knud Böhle is researcher at the Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS) since 1986. Between October 2000 and April 2002 he was Visiting Scientist at the European Commission's Joint Research Centre in Seville. He is specialised in Technology Assessment and Foresight of ICT and has led various projects. Currently he acts as editor of the INDICARE Monitor. Contact: + 49 7247 822989,

Status: first posted 27/05/04; revised for INDICARE Monitor Vol. 1, No 1, 25 June 2004; licensed under Creative Commons