Published in March 2005

Copyright in the Digital Age
By Scott Lehane

Digital rights management for IT/AV integrators.

      As the technology to build an AV network becomes more accessible, with the number of new potential input sources and output devices growing rapidly, it’s worth noting that, although technology has changed, copyright laws haven’t.
      It’s easy enough to set up a carousel of ripped MP3s that you can play over a network or PA system, but just because you can get your hands on a royalty-free codec such as Ogg Vorbis doesn’t give you the rights to use music, especially in a place of business. Inexpensive software products such as NCH Swift Sound’s Business Audio Software might be able to rip songs off CDs, but it doesn’t mean you’re allowed to use them.

Company Policies
     Most larger corporations have policies in place for use (or non-use) of copyrighted material. Otherwise they have contracts with content providers such as XM Satellite Radio, Muzak or Sirius Radio, all of which not only supply content but make sure they’ve cleared the rights and paid all of the royalties. Across a wide range of small/mid-sized businesses, however, it’s not uncommon to see employees bringing their own mix-CDs to play at work. And in educational institutions, many surveys show that the network is clogged with illegal downloads. In general, the public isn’t well informed about the differences between public and private use.
     According to Josh Weisberg, president of Scharff Weisberg, a New York-based audio, video and multimedia systems integrator, “Occasionally we may see something where we know that it’s not being handled properly, in which case we may make a recommendation. For example, that they use material they actually have rights to. But typically, that is the responsibility of the media producer or the content provider and I can tell you, it’s a big issue for them.”
     With technologies for Digital Rights Management becoming more and more ubiquitous and sophisticated, Chuck Wilson, executive director of the NSCA, reported that, “It’s going to become exponentially more important for our members—contractors and integrators—to understand all of this. There’s no doubt about it.”
     In the US, there are three performing rights organizations (PRO) whose job it is to collect royalties and manage rights to musical works: SESAC, BMI and ASCAP. As a business owner, it’s your responsibility to clear the rights to the music you use; it’s not the DJ’s responsibility. If you want to use a U2 or UB40 tune, you have to get a license from SESAC; but if you’re playing Michael Jackson, Elton John or Elvis, you must have a license from BMI.

  XM Satellite Radio offeres a Commercial Service Package for businesses that handles all of the commerical music license fees.

Complicated System
     The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) represents several hundred thousand artists and administers licenses for more than 300,000 individual businesses in the US. It’s a complicated system, with different license forms for the PA systems in campgrounds, bowling alleys, malls, trade shows, funeral homes and country clubs. It’s a system that differentiates “dog shows and competitions” from “dog racetracks” and, yes, even the easy-listening “music-on-hold” while you’re waiting for the next available operator has to be paid for.
     “ASCAP, SESAC and BMI control that pretty well,” explained Wilson. “That’s been fairly well thought out in terms of broadcasting for the benefit of your customers in the store, for example. We’ve dealt with that for years and that hasn’t changed. What makes it more complicated is things such as Sirius radio. We have satellite broadcast people in the business of providing background music, so that’s an interesting twist to that whole deal.”

‘Good Citizens’ Make Mistakes
     Even well-meaning, good citizens can make mistakes, assuming that just because they bought a CD or paid for a song on iTunes, they’re in the clear. And while it might seem unenforceable, keep in mind that there’s an anonymous tip hotline for unlicensed jukeboxes. And the technologies to track those who violate copyright are becoming more and more sophisticated.
     “As the technological leader among the nation’s performing rights organizations, SESAC was the first PRO to employ state-of-the-art Broadcast Data Systems (BDS) performance detection,” explained Pat Rogers, senior vice president, corporate relations and artist development, SESAC. “SESAC utilizes BDS in conjunction with cutting-edge ConfirMedia watermarking technology....The system required to compute compensation is based on many factors, including music trade publication chart activity, broadcast logs, computer database information and state-of-the-art monitoring”

Better to be Proactive
And as Whit Jackson, SecureMedia vice president of business development, pointed out, “It’s better to be proactive in terms of being a good citizen, than one day getting caught and having to deal with the attorneys at the RIAA.
     “One classic example of this is the sports bar with several TVs and they’re pulling down the DirecTV package and providing Sunday football games in a commercial establishment,” he offered. “A number of years ago, DirecTV starting clamping down on a lot of that activity, actually having their people visit these sports bars, providing ‘cease-and-desist’ letters and migrating businesses to a different kind of subscription.”
     SecureMedia’s Encryptonite DRM system is widely deployed in IP television and VOD applications, as well as a new broadband subscription audio service in Japan run by Softbank in conjunction with Yahoo Broadband. The company expects a similar broadband music service to launch in the US this year.
     “It’s similar to XM Satellite Radio or Sirius satellite radio here in the US, except it’s delivered over broadband networks instead of satellite networks, with a specialized audio receiving device,” explained Jackson.
     The company’s decryption technology is also embedded in new Sony AirTact-enabled displays, a wireless gateway designed to drive video displays. “In that case, the playback devices are Sony plasma televisions. There’s a central gateway device and wireless connectivity from the gateway to these plasma playbacks. We can then send that encrypted content wirelessly from the gateway to the plasma and it gets decrypted in the plasma itself at the point of rendering.”

Fragmented Market
     Overall, Digital Rights Management is a hodge-podge of related technologies that aim to control access to content and prevent unauthorized use and duplication. It’s often described as a fragmented market that has yet to mature.
     “Everyone is trying to fit current copyright law into the digital domain and it’s kind of like putting a round peg into a square hole,” said Chip Venters, CEO of DRM software developer Digital Containers. “I would say it’s a goal of companies such as ours to do our very best to enforce all of the copyright law that we can, but even the old analog world didn’t really protect copyright all that well.”
     Digital Containers aims to enable legitimate file swapping over peer-to-peer networks by ensuring that every time a new user tries to open a file, it will initiate an e-commerce transaction to pay for the song. The company also has patents on tracking technology that reports a file’s location back to a central server.

Tracking Audio Content
     But, according to Venters, that’s one of the controversial aspects of the technology: “Some German magazine called it an Orwellian patent. It was all about a file reporting back where it’s at and who has it.”
     Even Venters is leery of the idea of employing tracking on audio content. “When you get to that level, where a piece of music is playing somewhere and it’s simultaneously signaling back to some central authority that it’s being played, [we can do it], but is that what we really want? Do we want media to constantly protect itself like that?”

Privacy Is Just One Element
     Indeed, privacy is just one element of a huge controversy surrounding DRM, especially among consumer advocates who argue that at best, it’s a crude, dumbed-down version of some very complicated copyright laws, and that its simplified rules and permissions don’t take into account those instances where it is actually legal to make copies; for example, academics and journalists under Fair Use laws and people making a legitimate backup copy.
     The systems sometimes invent rights that don’t exist in law, such as the idea of a region setting on a DVD, and can give people a false sense of security. “I was able to copy it,” you think, “therefore it’s OK to copy it.”
     “Some people are now saying it’s time to change copyright and IP laws to fit the new reality that the internet brings,” said Venters. “It seems as if there’s much ado about nothing at this point. And whether it’s contrived or real, there’s this thought that technology can start to solve the problem.”

Worst of All Ideas
     In a recent controversial address to execs at Microsoft’s Redmond headquarters, Cory Doctorow, outreach coordinator of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, warned that, “This is the worst of all the ideas embodied by DRM: that people who make record-players should be able to spec whose records you can listen to, and that people who make records should have a veto over the design of record-players.”
     This is an apt analogy. We live in a world in which iPods are designed to play music purchased from Apple’s iTunes. Output devices can dictate certain content suppliers, and the content providers choose a specific DRM system and platform.
Don’t expect much in the way of interoperability or compatibility if you want to use multiple sources.

A Digital Container acts as a secure file wrapper, requiring users to pay for content before they can open it.

Digital Containers recently signed a deal with Paperback Digital to securely distribute Frankenstein radio broadcasts from the 1930s.


     There are many different systems, with different approaches to the problem. Some require access to a central server to unlock content, while others embed the key with the content. Some will lock a file so it will only be read within a certain IP address range, some on a certain PC or server. Some track a file. Some watermark a file.
     And at the end of the chain, something like Macrovision is probably protecting the analog line out of the computer so it can’t be copied to VHS or tape. In the middle, there’s a host of different software to protect delivery over IP.
     So there can be a lot of different programs jumping in and out of the picture, throughout the pipeline, encrypting, decrypting and transcrypting content.
When it works properly, it’s totally transparent and the user should never even know it’s there. When it doesn’t, you can end up with CDs that won’t play, or files that won’t open. In one classic case, EMI records released a CD that wouldn’t play on some CD players because of its DRM system.

Too Disparate for Standardization
     Jack Lacy is senior vice president of standards and community initiatives for one of the oldest companies in the DRM space, Intertrust, as well as president of the Coral Consortium, a group trying to develop a degree of interoperability between different DRM systems. He said, “Although recent innovations in digital media distribution provide consumers with new channels to acquire music and video, proprietary differences still exist in underlying DRM or content protection technology. At times, these technologies conflict and prevent consumers from playing content packaged and distributed using one DRM technology on a device that supports a different DRM technology.”
     The Coral Consortium’s aim is to “promote devices, content and technologies that play well together.” The group includes HP, Intertrust Technologies, Philips Electronics, Panasonic, Samsung, Sony and Twentieth Century Fox Film.
     Although there is a lot of talk about developing interoperability between systems, the idea of actual compatibility or standardization isn’t realistic, explained SecureMedia’s Jackson: “From the consumer advocate’s point of view, you should be able to buy music from anywhere, and play it anywhere, and move it anywhere you want. That’s just not technically realistic. All of this transcryption and transcoding comes at a price. And that price is CPU capabilities, memory or horsepower....It doesn’t come for free.
     “What is evolving for these types of applications is interconnectivity between various DRM systems and network encryption systems,” he stressed. Hence, a gateway device might transcrypt content from one DRM system to another.
     But the basic principles of different DRM systems, and the unique nature of every application are just too disparate to allow for any kind of standardization. According to Venters, “What everyone is trying to do is create as much interoperability as they can. There’s so much confusion. You get a digital file. You want to play it on your iPod and it doesn’t work. In a perfect world, there would be universal ability for these things to be passed around and always work. It may be achievable, but it may not.”
     Notably absent from these types of interoperability initiatives are companies such as Microsoft and Apple, both of which have their own plans for DRM. Apple sees DRM as a segue into content distribution with its iTunes service.
Microsoft’s Windows Media Player is built around Window’s Media digital rights management software. The company envisions a world where content owners can deliver à la carte and subscription content for playback on a computer, portable device or network device connected to an IP network, enabling a wide variety of business models, with highly flexible usage rules and permissions. The company’s new DRM system, still in pre-release and code-named Janus, is meant to allow content owners to control a complex set of reuse rights for any networked content.
Microsoft’s content provider partners include such heavy hitters as BMG Entertainment, BuyMusic, CinemaNow, EMI Recorded Music, Ifilm, Lions Gate Films Entertainment, Movielink, MusicNow, Napster, Sony Music, Universal Music and Warner Music.
     The company has an equally impressive array of partners in live content, application developers and even chip manufacturers that build Microsoft DRM decryption into their chipsets. Service providers signed on to the Microsoft vision of DRM include Active Internet, BuyDRM, Digital World Services, DRMNetworks, Entriq, EZDRM, Loudeye, Object Cube, OverDrive, PlayStream, RioPort, SyncCast and the Platform.

Not the Only Game in Town...
But Microsoft isn’t the only game in town. IBM’s extensible Content Protection (xCP) is a middleware application designed to allow users to move media around between different devices by identifying what devices belong to the network and preventing people from taking content to other devices.
     HP has what it calls a “partner-centric” DRM initiative designed for Network Service Providers. The company has partnered with DMD-Secure, Widevine Technologies and Microsoft to protect content for video on demand, managed content delivery services, e-learning and music subscription services.
     It’s a market where there is still plenty of room for smaller players and niche application developers.
     RightsMarket’s RightsEnforcer provides users the ability to revoke access to files that have already been distributed, and prevents authorized users from unlocking content and forwarding to others.
     BuyDRM offers its KeyOS Platform as a monthly service. The KeyOS Client allows users to encode and encrypt their content, while their KeyOS Console web interface provides policy and license management, real-time statistics, user management, sales and marketing data. Content owners can use this interface to monitor the use of their media and sales.
     SealedMedia’s enterprise-class DRM system helps organizations maintain control over who can use their most sensitive information. As with many of the systems, it’s content agnostic, supporting everything from audio and video formats to standard document formats such as email (Microsoft Outlook and Lotus Notes), Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, Microsoft PowerPoint, Adobe PDF and HTML.
     Activated Content has developed a popular watermarking system for encoding inaudible, unique codes into digital audio. Digital watermarking gives content owners the ability to embed invisible copyright information in a video stream, or inaudible data in audio content. The company’s Acti-vatedAudio watermarking Suite has been deployed at several record labels, recording studios, mastering studios, duplication houses and online distribution services worldwide.

Comprehensive Rights Management
     In addition, Digital Asset Management software such as Documentum also provides comprehensive rights-management capabilities. Some clients, particularly those producing their own content, may want their AV content to conform to a broader asset management strategy designed to regulate a workflow, or track access to files.
     For example, institutional users may want to grab a piece of media and use it in a PowerPoint presentation; content owners would like to get paid for that, and institutions would like to be sure they aren’t open to lawsuits for the innocent presentation embellishments of an employee.
     In essence, there is no out-of-the-box solution for the problem of rights management. Just about every application is unique, and whether you’re trying to protect your own content, or deal with content coming from other sources, digital rights management is becoming a ubiquitous part of the network. It’s something that corporations and institutions will have to deal with on an ongoing basis, much the same as they deal with network security issues.
     “It’s everybody’s responsibility: the consultants, the manufacturers, the users. We all have to be informed and take responsibility to do things right,” said NSCA’s Wilson, “Our position is that we want everybody to adhere to the law, first and foremost, and if there is copyright on certain things, we want our members, when they’re putting in systems, to make darn sure that they’re adhering to the ownership value that people have placed on creating a copyright.”


Scott Lehane is a Toronto, Canada-based journalist and documentary film producer.

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