The Netmusik project launched September 1st 2004 by the public libraries in Denmark is financed by the Danish Ministry of Culture with approx. 4 million Danish kroner (550.000 Euro). The intention of the project is to make a large part of mostly Danish music freely available to citizens by launching an internet portal called Bibliotekernes Netmusik (Net Music of the Libraries). From the start most local libraries participated in the project making some 35.000 music tracks available for public download. The collection of tracks primarily contains popular Danish music but also includes classical music as well as foreign artists. The selection available reflects what could be negotiated as downloadable with the involved record companies. It is expected, that during its trial phase of two years the project will cover all public libraries as well as the selection of music will increase. Access to the system allows users to download music that can be played on one computer for a limited period of 24 hours or one week. The system is based on download quotas allowing the local public library to set up individual quotas for its users (see Bisbjerg 2004, and the Netmusik website).

The musical content is based on a digitalisation project previously carried out by Statsbiblioteket i Århus (State Library of Århus) where most of the music published since 1982 in Denmark was digitally stored retaining full quality. Close to 400.000 tracks were stored and a portion of the tracks consequently used in the Netmusik system.

The project team behind Netmusik consists of two parties: Statsbiblioteket in Århus, who designed the user interface and implemented the access control, that makes the system available for citizens through the public libraries who participate; the other party is Phonofile a consortium of record companies and owners of the rights to the music, who reused an existing system for sale of online music and its digital rights management system in the Netmusik solution. The Danish minister of Culture, Brian Mikkelsen, in a press release at the launch, characterized the project as an ambitious effort to legally and freely make music available online for citizens. However the launch of the system was not to be without its troubles.

Breaking the copy protection
A week after the introduction of the system it became apparent that the copy protection scheme behind Netmusik was not immune to circumvention. The project team had themselves described the DRM system as the “most secure in the world” making use of the Microsoft sound format WMA implementing DRM key-based protection, that locks a downloaded tune to the target PC, where the time limit and PC identification and verification is obtained by an online exchange of security keys the first time a track is to be played. Though this system relied on and required users to access the music through a combination of the Windows operating system and the Windows Media Player it was possible to access the music with a combination of another media player Winamp and a special plug-in obtained through the internet. This allowed for saving the musical content in an unprotected sound file.

The technical solution chosen is in contrast to a an online sale system which has been on the market for a year in Denmark. It is also originates from Phonofile. Here users are able to download mp3-files which are digitally watermarked making illegal copies traceable. However this solution was not chosen for Netmusik, presumably because the time limitation for listening to the tracks in Netmusik was a vital feature that could only be implemented with a DRM enabled system.

The news of this security breach caused surprised reactions from the project team behind Netmusik. Said Jens Thorhauge, director of the Danish Library Department under the Ministry of Culture: “That’s really disappointing to hear. It has never been an item of debate that the music industry was to deliver the secure solution. We have not had any influence on the choice of the protection scheme. The music industry demanded that the distribution should take place using Microsoft's copy protection. As far as I understand that decision has been taken by major multinational record companies”(Nielsen 2004a).

The reaction from Phonofile, representing the music industry, was brief. Simon Munch-Andersen, head of IT operations commented: “It surprises me that it can be done. Windows WMA is the most secure format and I have never heard of this before. But it doesn’t really make any impression on me, we’re just using technology approved by the record companies” (Nielsen 2004a).

Meanwhile a Danish grass roots organisation advocating strongly against the use of copy protection,, issued a detailed explanation on their website to be used by anybody wanting to circumvent the copy protection. One of the driving forces behind the Netmusik project, section leader Ole Bisbjerg, Statsbiblioteket I Århus, stressed that the circumvention of the protection was be considered as an illegal action infringing the Danish copyright legislation. He also stated, that the techniques involved would not be possible for the ordinary user (Nielsen 2004b).

Still, the breaking of the copy protection did not lead to any swift changes in the protection scheme nor did it result in closing down the system. But the use of a proprietary DRM solution was to meet criticism from other sides.

The limitation of choice for costumers
The Danish Consumer Council, Forbrugerstyrelsen, commented the proprietary nature of the Netmusik project in a very direct way, stating that choice of Microsoft technology was a serious impediment of the free choice for costumers and citizens. Said Grit Munk of the Danish Consumer Council: “It is an obvious problem, that the Netmusik solution demands the use of a particular operating system and media player software. Public libraries serve the population as a very important point of access to culture. Consequently libraries have at least the same obligation as other public bodies to deliver solutions that don’t require particular software or operating systems of the users” (Nielsen 2004b).

Member of the Danish Parliament, Morten Helveg Petersen of the centre party Det Radikale Venstre stated his intent to confront the Minister of Culture, Brian Mikkelsen, from the right wing party Venstre with the content of the publicly funded Netmusik project: “Publicly funded information technology projects must contain freedom of choice, so citizens are not forced into a specific software solution” (Nielsen 2004b).

EU demands for open standards
Presently the EU Commission is trying to develop a European policy on DRM. The work is taking place in the “High Level Group on DRM”, a working group consisting of participants mainly from the European consumer electronics sector but also joined by BEUC, the European Consumer Union (regarding the BEUC position see Böhle 2004, Kutterer 2004). In contrast to the Danish project, the preliminary recommendations from the working group advocate the development of open standards for DRM solutions. A work that should ideally be left to international standardisation bodies, the working group stresses in a recent report (High Level Group on DRM 2004, see also Orwat 2004).

Bottom line
The Danish project Netmusik exemplifies the present challenges involved in moving musical content online while maintaining a proper balance between the users’ right to consume music and respecting the rights of the owner of the artistic work. The technical solution chosen by the participants in the project was a given fact. The solution was insisted on by the international music industry, the participants confirm. However the practical evolution of the project has clearly revealed that the technical implementation does not work. It has flaws that make undesired copying possible. Additionally, and more important, it imposes a series of demands and restrictions for the legal users. They are tied to playing the music on a single computer; they are forced to use a specific operating system and media player software. Users that for various reasons don’t adhere to the technical requirements are left out in the cold. The use of proprietary technology is also in conflict with guidelines issued for information technology projects by the Danish Ministry of Science Technology and Innovation, as the independent think tank Cedi confirms (Nielsen 2004b). Furthermore the model for compensating the artists economically is tied to the number of downloads. Popular artists receive compensation based on use whereas artists whose work is not being downloaded are not compensated. Though this may sound fair, it leads to a partial departure from earlier practices where public libraries also invested in cultural items that were not of popular but of cultural significance.


About the author: Kurt Westh Nielsen is a journalist for the largest technical weekly magazine in Denmark, Ingeniøren – Engineering Weekly. One of his main areas of coverage is Internet related technologies such as DRM, Trusted Computing, encryption techniques, computer security and other issues with implications to digital rights and society in general. An extensive collection of his writing (in Danish) is available at Contact:

Status: first published in INDICARE Monitor Vol. 1, No 5, 29 October 2004; licensed under Creative Commons