The IST 2004 Event
One of the most important thematic priorities of the European Commission's Sixth Framework Programme (see FP6) is the Information Society Technologies (see IST), whose aim is to ensure European leadership in knowledge economy and foster the development of the knowledge-based society. The annual conference, where representatives of the academia, the public sector and the ICT industry can meet to build relationships and establish cooperation, is the so-called IST Event (2004a).

This year the IST 2004 Event was held in The Hague. The event offered three main instruments for the participants to help them build new contacts and find potential partners: the Conference with 30 sessions addressing main topics of IST, the Exhibition showing results of recent IST R&D projects, and several Networking Sessions offering valuable possibilities to meet persons with the same interest and discuss ideas about future cooperation.

A conference session called “The Evolving Consumer Value Chain: Extended Home Environment and DRM Challenges” and also a special networking session were dedicated to Digital Rights Management.

Home environment and DRM challenges
At the conference session on DRM six presentations (IST Event 2004b with slides available) addressed ongoing development activities and future views on the improvement of DRM solutions.

Richard Gooch (IFPI) talked about new music distribution needs, where consumers would like to listen to the songs they have paid for throughout their home environment: PC, music centre, discman, car, etc. without any inconvenience. The DRM system in this scenario should protect against “copying for the neighbours”. The speaker highlighted two important problems: security and interoperability. Admittedly solutions to these problems were not addressed in this opening presentation.

Lindsay Holman (Panasonic OWL) presented several interesting facts about music and video downloads and P2P network penetration. Even though P2P networks have been understood as equivalent with piracy in the past, the speaker’s opinion was that this technology would play a significant role in the future of legal content distribution. By learning from the success of this technology and applying adequate Copy-Protection and Copy-Management (CPCM) solutions to it, content industry could benefit.

Erwan Bigan (VIACCESS SA) gave an overview on current protection systems, like conditional access (CA), digital rights management, copy protection and copy control. According to the speaker’s view, evolution seems to be turning from conditional access based services, like coded cable TV, to usage controlled DRM solutions. He also highlighted interoperability and security as the key success factors.

Timo Ruikka (Nokia Corp.) introduced OMA/DRM standardisation efforts to elaborate open, widely accepted standards. Now OMA DRM 2.0 is ready and can be deployed to create interoperable DRM solutions. The next steps will not be of technical nature, but about attractive services and business models to win consumers. If offer and demand were to match, then the relative security and interoperability provided by OMA DRM should be enough.

Wouter Leibbrandt (Philips Electronics) addressed future trends from the convergence point of view. It seems that mobile trends will drive development in this area. According to surveys mobile phones are more important for people than their wallets as they carry their mobiles with them all the time and wish to use them for all sorts of services. During the first wave of mobile infotainment developments “single function products” became more and more powerful. In this phase development was driven mainly by insufficient memory capacity and other technical bottlenecks. Now we are experiencing the second wave of this evolution characterized by “combination products”, where different services are integrated into one device (mobile + camera, flash-drive with MP3 player, etc). In this phase a lack of interoperability is the main obstacle.

José Jimenez (Telefónica) interpreted DRM as the key element in the “war towards the Intelligent Home”. Using Lord of the Rings imagery, he went through mobile network trends and pointed at actions needed to fight decreasing ARPU (average revenue per user) and increasing competition. With respect to consumers, the lack of interest in technology would be the most important hurdle. This war can be won only together, according to the speaker, and DRM seems to play a key in this process, because its interoperability requirements force actors to cooperate.

Shortly summing up: From the presentations mentioned above one can see that much effort has been invested in developing and deploying DRM solutions, but several problems, mainly security and interoperability, are still open and call for widely accepted solutions. The question – which none of the speakers addressed directly – however is, whether these problems can be solved in the near future.

Vivid debate about DRM at the networking session
The networking session about the “Future of Digital Rights Management” started as a conventional round table discussion about upcoming calls for proposals and possible projects, but very soon the direction of the conversation turned to the theoretical and practical problems and the uncertainty surrounding the future of DRM. After the second round the audience joined the debate with – sometimes extreme – views and the whole session turned to an endless debate about the question, whether any DRM technology can be long-lasting in practice or not. Even though there was no clear outcome of this discussion, it is interesting to highlight some points from the debate.

People do not want unbreakable rules
Any type of protection is based on laws and rules. Rules in everyday life are sometimes easy to break, like speed limits and illegal music downloads. We all know that breaking rules is illegal and in unlucky situations entails punishment. However in case of digital content protection, rules seem to behave strangely. On one hand there is practically no punishment for P2P MP3 downloads, while on the other hand, if strong DRM technology were applied, the rules would not be breakable, and ideally there would not be any exception from the rule.

The vision of rules that do not permit any exception sounds exaggeratedly strong for consumers. A future in which there is no way, even in exceptional cases, to un-protect protected digital content in order to have access to it, understandably frightens us. In everyday life a "small breaking" of the rules may help more than it causes trouble (e.g. exceeding the speed limit sometimes can save life)? Applied to digital content, the equation of all the disadvantage of strong protection on the one side and relatively limited damage avoided on the other side, is often perceived as unbalanced. According to one of the speakers, people do not want unbreakable rules.

Preserving digital heritage
One can experience that it is hard to find certain works of art, like CD's and films from the beginning of 1900's. There are many cases where the market for traditional media became very limited due to the free Internet availability of the content. As a consequence shops and libraries did not keep copies. While in the past many of these works of art could be found and downloaded from the WEB freely but illegally, these channels are shut down today. As a result content practically disappears and becomes unavailable.

The speaker urged that we should take care of our digital heritage and ensure that all digital works of art will be preserved for the time when their legal protection expires and they become public and unprotected. Nobody seems to deal with this issue, no one seems to be interested, and law does not seem to address this question.

Can IP protection ever work?
After the issues that addressed DRM from the points of frustrated expectations a comment from the audience turned the table to the technological problems: “We have to see that legal means and technological means have all failed''. We should not pacify the world with the promise that these questions can be solved in the future by technical means. Copy protection does not and will not work. We have to look for a different solution.”

Since this comment implied that if the situation is so bad, there is no ground for further research or standardisation investments, it raised quick and loud objections and started a lively debate: Many from the audience claimed that from a theoretical point of view the problem is solvable, but requires actions that are hard to achieve in practice, that was why further efforts are needed.

  • For example in the case of music it should be possible for a song to exist only in properly encrypted form right from the very beginning when it is recorded in the studio.
  • Decryption should be dynamic and self-containing, that is the digital content should be an executable program, whose output would be the protected content. The executable program should play the output only in such environment, where it is ensured that content can not be stolen (i.e. only on certified playback devices). Self Protecting Digital Content (SPDC) was referred as an example for this solution (see Cryptography Research, Inc. 2004). SPDC claims that if someone can break one of the protections, he still won't be able to break others, since there is no single point of attack in the system. Interoperability would be the key question if such a strong DRM came into practice.

Alternative compensation to encourage intellectual production
There was another interesting comment from the audience. It suggested that we should have turned back to the roots of IP protection laws and examined how its initial goals could be reached in another way: The very basic goal of IP protection is to encourage authors to produce more and higher quality intellectual property, because it is the common interest of the whole society. In the past IP protection law seemed to fulfil its basic goals, it encouraged authors to produce more and more products (quality is another question) and consumers accepted paying for them. The new possibilities by newer and newer technology would have spoilt the mechanism and its balance.

The comment suggested forgetting about the current situation for a minute, where we are, what the laws are, and try to think in a set of rules, that can be feasibly enforced even in practice and take into account the new possibilities of the Internet and the changed requirements of the consumers, while still encouraging authors.

One has to accept that consumers want to exploit the possibilities of easy copying between different devices, through the Internet or even between each other (not just within their own home!). Experience would show that those initiatives fail that try to apply any sort of copy protection and try to prohibit users from exploiting opportunities that technology now provides. Users want to collect everything they might ever need – even if they do not or only very rarely use it (e.g. music collections with thousands of albums) –, and they want to take these collections with them all the time, just because technology permits it, and because it is much easier than anything else.

The speaker suggested that one should play a bit with the idea that copying any content was be free (according to law) and very easy (because of technology improvements). In such an environment how could one encourage authors to produce more and higher quality IP?

A possible solution would be to collect “IP taxes” and distribute this money based on the usage of different IPs (e.g. songs). If the usage counts for this calculation were to be solved by relatively strong (but weaker than currently projected) DRM technology it could be the solution. On one hand it would not prohibit consumers from doing what they like, giving them total freedom, while on the other hand there would be no reason to break this system by anyone, since their money would not depend on it. Only authors would be interested in cheating the system, but tolerating some fraud in that sense might be better than the current situation. However, one has to admit that this idealistic situation would need such basic changes that chances that it will ever be reached are very small.

Bottom line
From the lively debate and the extreme views on the future of DRM we can conclude that there is no clear consensus about the direction where technology, law and practical systems should go. It might be the case that the so-far more or less common IP regulations will split into different sub cases (like music vs. other arts, or even the case with software), or different proprietary solutions will rule this world. Currently no one seems to know the answer, but time will surely take future to present.


About the author: Zoltan Hornak teaches and does research in the field of IT and mobile networks security at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics. He is the founder and the owner of SEARCH-LAB Ltd, a spin-off company dedicated to mobile networks security. Contact:

Status: first posted 26.01.2005; included in INDICARE Monitor, Vol. 1, No 8, 28 January 2005; licensed under Creative Commons