The Digital Media Project

 

The DMM major actions

(2003/09/30)

The Digital Media Manifesto identifies seven major areas for action. They are grouped according to their nature - policy and technical, and are:

Policy actions

P1

Mapping of rights traditionally enjoyed by users to the Digital Media space

  P2

Phasing out analogue legacies applied to Digital Media

  P3

Deployment of broadband access

  P4

Improving development of and access to standards

Technical actions

T1

Interoperable Digital Rights Management platforms

  T2

Interoperable end-user devices

  T3

End-to-end conformance assessment

P1 - Mapping rights traditionally enjoyed by users to the Digital Media space

Legislation concerning the rights acquired by end users along with content is the result of decades of interventions and legislative consistency is far from uniform across countries. In addition to this there is a set of other abilities, again widely varying from country to country, that end users have come enjoy, such as end-user exceptions to rights holders' rights. It is convenient to call the ensemble of these possibilities "rights traditionally enjoyed by end users", even though these are not, strictly speaking, all "rights". Examples of these "rights" are right to quote, right to make personal copy, right to choose playback device and right to privacy. On the other side there are actions triggered by the need to limit the effect of some new features that were enabled by new media technologies and that were considered too damaging to rights holders. The result is that there are non uniform and non consistent bodies of beliefs in value-chain players and end users underpinning the complex relationship between media and end users, that are sometimes substantiated by the law and sometimes just the result of common practices.

DM technologies allow a vast number of new possibilities, some of which had an equivalent in the analogue world. In general, however, it is not straightforward to see how basic user rights of the analogue age can be carried over to the digital media space. So far the relationship between users, device manufacturers and the media business has been largely adversarial.

There is a need for a neutral place where a dialectic collaboration between three communities - rights holders, value-chain players, and end users can take place to define how rights traditionally enjoyed by end users can be mapped to the Digital Media space..

P2 - Phasing out analogue legacies applied to Digital Media

Germany has been the first country to place a levy on equipment that could be used by citizens to make copies of copyright-protected material in the privacy of their own home for their own personal use. Since then levies have been instituted in many European countries and in some countries in other continents, such as Canada. Today levies are claimed on PCs, multifunctional devices, mobile phones with MP3 functions, some types of set top box with integrated recording capacity and scanners; on CD recordable, DVD recordable and various types of solid state memory, and even on the Internet.

The concerns about the DM levy are:

Other legacies of the analogue age are the network of legal country-based restrictions to the flow of media content and the lack of uniformity of taxation across different countries. This was a tolerable situation for media distributed on physical carriers that were largely intended for a single uniform market, but it is no longer acceptable today when people can easily acquire content from countries with very different taxation regimes.

P3 - Deployment of broadband access

The true potential of Digital Media will be realised with the prevalence of content agnostic systems, enabled by two-way systems. Attempts made by the telcos in the last decade to stimulate broadband provision via new Digital Media service offerings, e.g. broadband video-phones or video/movies-on-demand, have generally failed. Two-way broadband access to the home or small business features in the plans of all the world’s telecommunications network providers but they struggle to realise those plans, because even if today's technology is cheaper than 10 years ago, in many countries economic issues intersect with state intervention, regulation, licensing and competition policy.

Left to itself broadband access is going to proceed along the current trends where home users take up existing offers, such as ADSL at a few 100 Kbit/s and Cable Modems. These constitute significant advances compared to the dial-up modems of a few years ago, but they are hardly to be considered as adequate enablers of a full-blown legitimate Digital Media market. Indeed Digital Media offerings are scarce today on the web and what exists is often of dubious legitimacy, there are few "consumer-grade" devices that one can connect to the Internet and the PC remains the main device to consume content, be it music, video clips or movies compressed from DVD. Realisation of scenarios such as diffuse distance learning, access to content repositories, personalised advertisement or where the number of content sources id comparable to the number of content consumers appear remote.

Summarising, there is a need for actions to remove the obstacles impeding the creation of a virtuous circle for all: technology suppliers, content creators, content-oriented service providers, connectivity providers, and the end user.

P4 - Improving development of and access to standards

Digital Media is the most advanced form of communication between humans ever invented and can expect to continue to undergo a continuous evolution thanks to the high innovation rate of digital technologies. To be practically deployed, Digital Media requires some sort of standardisation. Typically, the implementation of a standard requires access to IP owned by third parties. Standards bodies require that such IP be accessible at fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms, but in general the specific licensing terms are not described in the standard.

The MPEG-2 standard has been successful because a "pool" of the IPR holders offered non-discriminatory access to as much IP incorporated in the standard as possible in one single step and because the licensing terms were based on traditionally simple, well-understood models of deployment of the technology. The last few years, however, have shown the limits of the process of standardisation and the ensuing provision of licensing for relevant IPR. Some new Digital Media deployment models clash with product and service models that have traditionally been deployed in the IT field and different industries may apply radically different business models. More complex situations may stem from other standards such as metadata and DRM in their combination with other multimedia standards.

A related issue is the recognition made by technology developers of the relative disproportion between cost and potential benefit to filing patents. This has generated a dramatic increase in the total number of patent filings and is the major cause of the low level of "filtering" applied by patent offices, because they no longer have the resources, time or expertise to effectively filter through all of the filings and ensure good claims. This tends to exacerbate the phenomenon of low-innovation inventions getting the patent status.

T1 - Interoperable DRM platforms

The debate on whether meaningful business models exist that are not digital conversions of those employed in the analogue world has been raging for years. While it cannot be excluded that such new models may eventually emerge and even become mainstream, the process may take years and the dangerous Digital Media stalemate in which the media industry and society are struggling does not allow us to keep waiting for Digital Media salvation to come while the situation degenerates by the day. The only valid alternative that remains on the table is the use of content protection technologies or Digital Rights Management (DRM) technologies to remove the major disabling factor of DM business.

The value chain is typically made up of a number of independent business players, each with their own business models dictating how IT components and services should be used to achieve distribution and control of their IP. Therefore it is natural that each player wishes to retain the freedom of choosing the DRM solution that best fits his needs. The result will then be multiple DRM solutions implemented on different portions of different instances of the value chain.

This assembly of loosely interoperable solutions is the traditional way of managing content on the value chain. DRM, however, is not a technology that can be introduced arbitrarily at any point of the value chain, because its introduction at one point influences the rest of the value chain in a substantial way. Therefore, while it is conceivable to have multiple DRMs handled by different value chain players, the coexistence of different DRMs with a level of trust adequate for normal business relations is a major challenge that will prevent DRM from becoming the tool enabling meaningful businesses solutions in any predictable length of time

The only feasible solution in the short-to-medium term is the deployment of DRM solutions that are based on technologies designed to interoperate. This does not mean that there should be a single DRM specification holding across the value chain and that only the prescribed technologies should be used everywhere. There should be different solutions, offered by different vendors, that are capable of interoperating with one another, e.g. via negotiation protocols.

T2 - Interoperable end-user devices

A necessary condition for a successful interoperable DRM platform is the existence of interoperable end-user devices. These are technically a part of the DRM platform but it is convenient to treat them separately because devices include several other issues, such as the fact that they will possibly have to be operated by technically unsophisticated end users.

Traditionally end user devices have been both media and delivery specific. Different devices are needed to view a TV program coming via over-the-air broadcast or via a VHS cassette recorder, even if it is the same TV signal that the device has to deal with. On the other hand the same device might be used to watch or listen to programs from different sources, i.e. the receiving device is not content or service provider specific.

Today we see two models: one is based on devices that end users can buy in the shops, while the other is based on devices that are supplied by service providers. Examples of the former are CD and DVD with which any music or video content from any source can be played. Prices are brought down by broad competition, e.g. very few tens of $/€ for a low-end CD or DVD player. Huge businesses have been spawned around these openly available devices. Unlike mass-market devices of the first model, devices for the second remain high, e.g. a digital pay TV STB costs roughly one order of magnitude more than their analogue equivalent. As a result those businesses are in general still struggling. The situation is not likely to improve any time soon, though. End-user devices for Digital Media have a much faster device obsolescence rate compared to analogue media and even major Service Providers find it hard to plan centrally for end-user device updates because users have different requirements.

Setting aside adventurous speculations, by now there is enough evidence that only a competitive market of end user devices from different manufacturers, capable of consuming protected content which end users can buy in the shops, can provide opportunities for sustainable Digital Media business that is respectful of rights holders and satisfactory to end users. Such an open end-user device market can kick off a phenomenon of a size comparable to the IBM PC's.

T3 - End-to-end conformance assessment

A content value chain is a complex system where different players, bound by legal/business agreements and with the support of different technological solutions, operate so as to achieve the goals of the value chain. Use of DRM implies the redesign of B2B relationships at least in certain portions of the value chain that must take into account the fact that IT is the underlying enabling technology. To accept the change, value chain players must be provided with the means to verify that each player operates according to the agreed upon rules, e.g. by certifying that the different parties involved (manufacturers, software vendors, service providers, etc.) guarantee the level of quality and adherence to the rules that has been agreed.

There is a need to develop a set of recommended practices for legal, business and technical conformance across the value chain in the sense that the means to check conformance should be provided. It will be up to legal contracts and possibly legislation to make parts or all of these recommended practices legally enforceable.