The publication reviewed here is an outcome of an interdisciplinary research project on DRM at the University of Dortmund, funded by the Ministry of Science and Research North Rhine- Westphalia, Germany. Main activities of the project were the organisation of two international conferences on DRM, one in 2000 and the other in 2002, and the publication of the present volume towards the end of the project in 2003. The ambition of this book is to provide the „first interdisciplinary overview of DRM“ (p. V). Its primary goal is to shed light on DRM issues „from various relevant viewpoints and scientific disciplines“ (p. 1). The focus of the book is on „distribution of entertainment content (i.e. as music, pictures, movies, text, etc)“ (p. 1f). Authors come mainly from academia, the IT industry (e.g. Nokia, Ericsson, Microsoft, HP), and from copyright industries, i.e. industries whose performance depends on copyright laws and effective enforcement.

The book reveals the complexity of the subject matter and provides insights into the state of the art. In a highly aggregate form, lessons to be learnt from the book are, with respect to technology:
  • that DRM technology is a systemic technology,
  • that it is more about infrastructure than just products, and
  • that one of the crucial questions is, how far DRM systems can be shaped „in a value-cantered design process so that important policy and legal values are preserved„ (Bechtold, p. 599).

With respect to economic aspects the main message seems to me that a world with only protected content is utopia. In reality protected content has to compete with free content (assuming no copyright) as well as with technically unprotected content (assuming copyright). Regarding the legal aspects, I have learnt that copyright is a too narrow perspective. I tend to agree with Thomas Dreier and Georg Nolte „that copyright as a body of law is currently overloaded with information policy issues, which - like a ship carrying a too heavy load - it has never been designed for„ (p. 480). A broad perspective of information law covering databases, digital broadcast, online-services etc. seems to be required to cope with the diversity of digital media formats.

Consumer and citizen concerns
After the very short overall review, let‚s look for consumer concerns in this stack of 800 pages. Do we hear the voice of consumers and citizens in this book? The first answer is no: The organised interests of consumers, handicapped persons, and civil society organisations are not present in this multi-facetted book, except from Barbara Simons, representative of the US Public Policy Committee of the Association for Computing Machinery (USACM) reasoning about current US Copyright.

The second answer is more positive. Asking whether consumer and citizen concerns are present, the answer is yes. In fact the consumer-citizen is one person, but it may help to distinguish the two roles: the consumer-role and the citizen-role. Looking at the consumer role, the main question is how to bring about a sufficiently good user experience (ease of use, price, etc.). In a broader sense the role of the consumer in different distribution models, e.g. superdistribution, might also be regarded as part of the user-experience (we won‚t go that far here, cf. however Willms Buhse and Amélie Wetzel, pp. 271-287, developing four scenarios for „mobile music“ with different types of benefits for consumers). Looking at the citizen role, the constitution in general and civil rights is the yardstick. Main concerns are that copyright and user rights could be undermined by legislation, license agreements, and DRMs, and that data protection and privacy could fall short. In the following we will pinpoint articles dealing with these issues.

Consumer concerns
„Genie is out of the bottle“ writes Michel Clement (p. 327) and most authors – reflecting ?napsterization„, P2P -networks and ubiquitous copy devices – would probably agree. Peter Biddle et al. of Microsoft add that this process is irreversible. Purposely coining the term „darknet“ for filesharing and related practices on free distribution channels, they conclude: ?the darknet genie will not be put back into the bottle„ (p. 344). As a consequence, as Marc Fetscherin argues, ?content providers must accept electronic theft of their intellectual property as the unchangeable reality and learn to compete with pirated versions of their own products„ (p. 302). In the same vein the Microsoft authors state „Darknets are a competitor to legal commerce, and the normal rules of competition apply„ (p. 364). The article „Evaluating Consumer Acceptance for Protected Digital Content“ by Marc Fetscherin is especially interesting in this context as he scrutinizes and models the calculus underlying end-users‚ decision to either obtain protected legal content or non-protected illegal content. At the end of the day, business models have to be developed „making the original easier and cheaper to buy than to steal“ (p. 319). His basic criticism of current business models is their focus on illegal use, while ignoring the consequences for legal users, i.e. the hassle and the disadvantages caused by protection technologies (e.g. registration, software download, usage tracking, file expiration after a given time span, limited device range, limited copies). He concludes „? consumers are frustrated by the restrictions placed on how they can use content they own. Their frustrations are enough to encourage piracy“ (p. 315).

Citizen concerns
The consumer as citizen is a person aware of his or her rights. Consequently the consumer as citizen is very present in legal debate. One focus of debate is the legal provision of fair use or exceptions from Copyright for private use. That is true for the ?Digital Millennium Copyright Act„ (DMCA), the EU directive 2001/29/EC, and the legal provisions of member states implementing the directive. Most of the analyses in the present book come – more or less – to the same conclusion: exemptions and fair use are threatened. The assessment of the DCMA by Mathias Lejeune concludes ?Apparently the rights of users suffer, because in order to have effective anti-circumvention rules, the exceptions were tailored narrow, probably too narrow„ (p. 379 f.). Barbara Simons of USACM criticises the DMCA even more fervently with respect to fair use accusing the DCMA of missing the real target ?wholesale illegal copying and sales of copyrighted material by factories operating outside the U.S.„ (p. 403). With respect to EU legislation Séverine Dusollier criticises the copyright exceptions granted as ?empty promise„ (p. 462). Thomas Dreier and Georg Nolte regard the question what „the appropriate scope of private use exceptions“ should be in the digital and networked environment as „one of, if not the most prominent question“ for the future (p. 500). In this sense they caution that „DRM-systems may pose a threat to the finely tuned copyright system as we know it“ (p. 501).

Lee A. Bygrave deals with a second important citizen concern: the relation between Digital Rights Management and privacy (pp. 418-446). In his opinion „recent developments in Digital Rights Management Systems (DRMS) are bringing to the fore considerable tension between the enforcement of intellectual property rights and the maintenance of consumer privacy“ (p.418). Hence what is required seems to be an integration of technological measures for protecting intellectual property rights with privacy enhancing technologies (PETs). More precisely Bygrave recommends building mechanisms into DRMs architecture which enhance the transparency of the systems for information consumers, and building mechanisms into the systems architecture which preserves, where possible, consumer anonymity, and which allows for pseudonymity as a fall–back option, i.e. a separate persistent virtual identity, which cannot be linked to a physical person or organization.). In parallel, as he says, „it may be useful to draw on the technological-organizational structures of DRMS to develop equivalent systems for privacy management“ (p. 446). In short, the development and application of the „least privacy–invasive devices“ is encouraged.

The next step is to extend the individual citizen‚s view to a political view asking for „democracy-enhancing technologies“, think of freedom of speech or freedom of information. In this perspective Trusted Platforms are obviously the most controversial issue. With respect to Trusted Platforms and DRMs, Dirk Kuhlmann and Robert A. Gehring explain how trusted computing is able to strengthen DRMs. They warn however not to confuse Trusted Platforms and DRMs, because „DRM technology, by definition, is policy-specific, built 'to police copyright', while TCPA technology is conceptually policy-neutral„ (p. 198). While I am not sure if I would underline this statement imagining flexible DRMs able to also enforce user-rights, I would agree with the authors that a ?broad qualified, political debate“ about these issues is needed (p. 205).

Bottom line
With respect to the entire book, the overall quality of contributions is good, and some are without doubt excellent. The bibliography of about 100 pages is great and the index helpful. Reading can be recommended – despite some weaknesses of copy-editing. Although the book is not a primer I would expect that it will be digestible for most of INDICARE-Monitor readers. With respect to consumer concerns, the DRM discourse has entered a second stage: consumer concerns are indirectly present. It is recognized that acceptable DRM solutions need to respond to consumer and citizen concerns, and this is demonstrated in various contributions, some of which were highlighted. Nevertheless it is high time to learn more about motivations, experiences, and wishes of citizen-consumers, and to hear them or their organisations talk directly.


About the author: Knud Böhle is researcher at the Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS) at Research Centre Karlsruhe since 1986. Between October 2000 and April 2002 he was Visiting Scientist at the European Commission's Joint Research Centre in Seville (IPTS). 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, knud.boehle@itas.fzk.de

Status: first posted 07/07/04, included in INDICARE Monitor Vol. 1, No 2, 30 July 2004; licensed under Creative Commons
URL: http://www.indicare.org/tiki-read_article.php?articleId=23