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THOUGHT: We need a new DRM model for a new world we are living in
Posted by Arne Hess - on Saturday, 24.04.04 - 17:10:22 CET under 09 - Thoughts - Viewed 5936x
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For a couple of weeks I'm thinking about the perfect DRM (Digital Rights Management) now and wonder why we don't have a satisfied solution available which satisfies everybody: the industry and the user.
The reason why I'm thinking about DRM so much is the fact that I have most of my CDs ripped to my PC to listen the musing at home on my PC, at work on my Notebook on the move with my Smartphone, Pocket PC or iPod. However, I'm also entering the stage now, where I'm thinking about building a Media Center PC and with this PC, DRM becomes even more important because I would like to rip my DVDs also to store them on a single location - the hard drive of my Media PC which should be the location where all my media contents should be stored in future.

What's wrong with today's DRM and DR laws?
First of all, I don't like that the music industry still don't get the grasp of digital content and distribution. While I understand their needs for DRM and I fully support them there, they made too much mistakes in the past and still continue with these mistakes!
DRM is to protect the investments, which is okay but DRM shouldn't limit the buyer of content where and how to use it.

Example: if I buy the "wrong" CD today, I might be not able to play it because I don't have any Hi-Fi equipment anymore at home but just my PCs with CD-ROM drives. Some of these CDs supports copy protection mechanism which either prevents from playing the CD on my PC or Notebook or I'm not allowed to make a digital copy of it - to store it on my Media PC, Pocket PC or iPod. Well, does it makes sense? Does I bought a CD or does I bought the content? In my opinion I bought the content and I - as Arne Hess - should be allowed to use it, wherever and however I want. I don't want to be forced to buy a Discman just to be able to play my CDs on the move. I want to take it with me, the content, not the bearer: into my car as a physical CD copy, while traveling as a digital version on my Notebook, while walking as a digital copy on my mobile devices.

Therefore the understanding of the music industry - what DRM is about - is wrong. It shouldn't be about protecting the bearer (the physical CD) but should be about protecting the content (bearer independent).

Digital Music Distribution
What I really love is Apple iTunes shop which allows me (in general, if I would live in North America) to buy the stuff I like, the song I want to listen - not the CD the music industry want to sell me and hey, iTunes allows me to burn a CD out of the content I bought! Unfortunately iTunes doesn't allows me to take the Music with me on other devices rather than the iPod because its used AAC format and the used DRM isn't supported with RIO MP3 player or Pocket PCs and Smartphones. Therefore I'm limited again in how I use my bought and paid content.
This fact might drive more users into file sharing than the music industry expects. I'm not sure about this because I don't have any figures but hey, if you want to get a song and you want to get it fast and the song only - not the complete album and you live outside the U.S. the easiest way to get a song might be to jump into a file sharing system.
I'm sure it's not about saving money anymore, it's about getting what you want: fast and convenient. The Internet and mobile technologies changed the behavior of user experiences. If you want to get something which isn't physical, you want it now, immediately. You don't want to wait for the newspaper the next morning if you want to get information about something happened in the world right now - you check the Internet. You don't want to wait until the Computer store opens tomorrow morning to get a virus signature update, you want it now - and you download it. You don't want to walk into HMV next Saturday to buy a song, you want it now! It's a dramatic change in the culture of delivering contents, not a dramatic change in the mind of right and wrong.

How a perfect DRM cold looks like
In the past days I "wasted" a some time in what the perfect DRM model could look like and - because I believe into digital content distribution - it's about downloading content.
However - and unfortunately - this means that a lot of companies have to cooperate which don't cooperate together that much because all of them have different reasons to go their own ways: music industry, hardware manufactures like Sony, software developers like Microsoft, mobile network operator, etc.

However, maybe this ideas here helps and might be picked-up by the one or the other. Feel free to use them (if you are from one of the industries above) and deliver what the customer expect. Also feel free to hire me as a consultant for this project...

First of all, it's about a unique identifier - something like Microsoft Passport. Something you have to sign-in and to register. This identifier is used to mark DRM protected content.
Now you also have to register your devices/player/software with this "passport". Either you do it online, if it is a connected device or you do it offline, by entering a unique alphanumeric key, generated for your account.

Examples: My Internet connected PCs and Notebook get this kind of signature delivered by the Internet automatically. My Pocket PCs, Smartphone and iPod get it synced. On my car radio and CD player I have to enter the keycode one time by hand.

Now I have two components: digital content and the "player".

Digital content is distributed by the Internet, through online shops where I can buy the song or even movie. This content, I've downloaded doesn't contain any DRM signatures now, until I store/play/use it the first time. As soon as it is saved or played it is marked with the DRM signature of the device (PC, Notebook, mobile device).
Now I can play it on all my devices and can copy it from one to another device - which have to include the same signature.

But what's about sharing it? In my DRM model this would be possible also because it includes a DRM signature history. In most copyright laws it's allowed to make a private copy for friends or family. So far so good but how to track it? What's about sharing music on a party where others bring their CDs with them?

Here how the signature history would work:

  • Level 1 - The buyer/owner of the content: He is marked as the original owner of the copy and is allowed to play it wherever he want. If a level 1 owner puts his CD into a CD player with a different DRM signature the content can be played because the player recognize the content as a original copy which isn't redistributed. However, it is marked with the second signature (the signature of the one who owns this CD player).
    If you leave the CD for your friend he can continue to listen the music with his DRM signature devices. However, as soon as he loan it to a third party the third user can not use it anymore because he isn't in a direct relation with the original owner, which brings us to the level 2.
  • Level 2 - The buyer copied content for a friend: Level 1 owners are allowed to make a private copy for friends. So if you want to share music with your girlfriend you can make a copy for her. She can listen the music or watch the video and she can do this on all her DRM enabled devices. However, if her friend comes along and ask for a copy of your original content, this copy wouldn't work for her anymore because he or she would be a level 3 user only.
  • Level 3 - A copy from a copy: It's not possible to listen music in the original quality anymore but - and that's a difference because users would become sales channels also - a level 3 user might be possible to listen music in a super reduced quality. Give copies away for free - in a reduced quality for a kind of pre-listening. Therefore the copy would continue to work but not in the quality anymore. However, since you already have the complete content you could reactivate the original quality buy buying a new license and making you the level 1 owner again. For sure also level 2 users could buy the license to become a level 1 customer again to become allowed to share the content in full quality.

MY DRM model would required intelligent players which interacts with the content but hey, wouldn't it be cool to be allowed to make private copies, to share your content with your friends while they can not give your content away anymore? However, the user himself would become a sales channel by sharing music with friends!

Final Conclusion

My DRM model - as I said before - would require a strong cooperation between all related parties but by implementing the DRM model only and how it works/interact - every company could continue with their own technology to make it even better. Microsoft could continue using WMA/WMV, Real could continue to use its RM, Apple could continue with Quicktime and so on. So the differentiator wouldn't be the DRM but the technology.

Well, maybe I'm dreaming and we will never see something like that but again - I still live in the hope that somebody from the involved industry see this article and pick-up my ideas. For sure it's not complete but might be a start?

Cheers ~ Arne


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