Bill Rosenblatt has been dealing in digital rights management (DRM) since before DRM even had a name. He has helped develop industry DRM standards, he has penned a book called "Digital Rights Management: Business and Technology," and he edits the newsletter DRM Watch (www.DRMWatch.com). For him, DRM isn't only about protecting online content from piracy, it's a way of doing business in today's digital marketplace.
Rosenblatt spent some time answering some of our questions about DRM and how it can impact your future.
1. In today's marketplace, what does digital rights management involve and why is it important to book publishers?
There are three definitions of DRM that are used. The narrowest is protecting content to prevent piracy. The slightly broader definition would be protecting content to support online business models that would otherwise create opportunities for misuse of copyright. The difference is in whether we are doing this to put our existing content online or to create new business models online, as far as repackaging and delivering. The latter is much more useful.
The third and broadest definition has to do with, instead of 'digital rights management,' more a 'digital management of rights.' It's about creating databases of rights you have to your content so you can automate rights processes, such as granting rights, as a revenue possibility.
You could derive revenue from your titles in an automated way rather than what was traditionally confined to trade shows, phone calls, and that kind of thing. If you have [your rights] organized in a certain way, you can make them easily accessible and can automate the purchasing of [them]. There are entire online businesses that do this, like RightsCenter, which is an online exchange for book rights—things like language-translation rights and foreign redistribution rights.
2. Wouldn't DRM that is used to protect online content really be a separate issue from selling the rights to content and developing new online business models?
I see it as two sides of the same coin. When you use DRM in a narrow sense, in the way you would with an e-book, you're distributing content
to the consumer. But, the more important thing you're doing is selling the consumer a set of rights to that content. These rights dictate whether the consumer can sell it or lend it to someone, use it to line a bird cage, whatever.
In every transaction, whether in selling to the consumer or licensing foreign translation rights, the publisher is selling a set of rights to content. Those rights can be identified, managed, tracked and sold for revenue. … As each transaction is a set of rights transactions, then those different definitions of rights become pretty similar.
But, aside from rights, there are many things a consumer just can't do easily with a print book: For example, [he] can't change the content of the book without detection, [he] can't change a sad ending to a happy ending.
But in the digital world, all bets are off. So, publishers began to use DRM technology to mimic the set of rights that exist in the print world … as a way to take a digital file and get it to act like a physical book—make it hard to copy, hard to change.
3. You've been involved in this subject for a number of years; have the needs of publishers changed over the years?
Publishers still need to produce products that give customers what they want, at fair prices—that never will change. DRM is just an implementation detail in doing that, and one that has to do with the digital world as opposed to the pre-digital world.
As I said, the original thought people had about DRM was that it was a way of protecting against piracy in the digital world, where piracy becomes easy and cheap. Now, publishers are starting to look at DRM as an enabler of new business models. The first manifestation of that is, of course,
Most e-book-publisher platforms have DRM built into the total solution: On the publisher's side, creating and packaging e-books, and on the consumer's side, the software used to read the e-books has DRM built in.
Before, DRM used to be a separate category of software, but now you're finding it bundled into entire publishing solutions. The consumer doesn't even know it's there, but if they're using Mobipocket, Microsoft Reader or Adobe Reader, there is DRM technology built into it. E-periodicals and legitimate music download services (such as iTunes or Napster) are all based on the same idea. You download a piece of software to play music or look at a publication, and there is DRM built into the software.
4. How does it actually work? Is it like a copyright notice in a book in that it's just a notice of the rights?
The distinction between copyright and DRM is that copyright gives the user a set of rights and gives the publisher scope to prosecute the user if they do something to violate those rights. So, if someone is making unauthorized copies of a book, you call a lawyer and sue them. It's expensive and takes a while.
What scares publishers is that the act of making unauthorized copies becomes trivially cheap and easy to do online—more so than physical books. So what DRM does is, instead of relying on the legal system to enforce copyright, it relies on technology to enforce copyright up front. It encrypts the content and only lets you look at it with the proper credentials or for a set period of time.
5. Do most publishers you encounter have a plan in place to address digital rights management?
Most publishers do not do a good job of this at all. Most of them treat rights properties as back-office overhead, and the processes they use to deal with them are ad hoc and inefficient.
But, changing and improving is a very disruptive and complex undertaking. Many publishers understand the opportunity and need to change, but are reluctant to devote resources to it. Some take a hear-no-evil, see-no-evil attitude. Very few have fixed this in a good way, but just because it's hard to do. Many end up choosing a part of the problem that's especially worthwhile to solve.
6. What are some mistakes you see publishers make in trying to manage digital rights?
Especially in B-to-C [business-to-consumer], many publishers are on the receiving end of offers from the technology industry, and they sort of look at what vendors are offering and say 'yea' or 'nay,' as opposed to working with the vendors up front on the technology they need. I think that is a mistake.
As an example, a leading publisher in higher-ed was considering using a certain e-book technology for publishing textbooks in electronic form. The available technology allowed x number of copies for every person who purchased the book. That might be OK for trade books—an individual may want an extra copy for their handheld device or in case their PC hard drive crashes—but in the case of a class full of students, if multiple copies are available for each purchase, it could be a problem for the publisher. Every student should have to buy a copy. It is a lack of collaborative effort between vendors and publishers.
Another mistake is looking at DRM too narrowly—not managing rights in an effective way, looking at DRM as being limited to e-books.
In general, publishers need to get more strategic about technology and how it supports product development.
7. Can you manage digital rights effectively without purchasing software?
No. You need software. It doesn't mean you have to buy expensive software, but on the business side, you need a database. … You can't do it with pencils and paper, or spreadsheets. In B-to-C, not using software means not using protection against piracy. Piracy is a problem. It's an arms race between the hackers and the publishers.
8. Can a book publisher use any digital rights management software? Is there software specific to the book industry?
Essentially, DRM software is part of e-book production and consumption software. [But] there are other schemes out there you might use in a book paradigm, if you're doing something other than e-books, such as PDFs for course materials or professional content for nursing students—then you might use something else.
There's Microsoft's Windows Media Rights Manager technology, which manages digital rights for corporate documents. In STM [scientific, technical and medical] publishing, there are DRM solutions that are specific to that market, including RapidRights from Cadmus and DocuRights from Aries Systems, both meant for distribution of journals or journal articles under different sets of circumstances.
Some publishers may want to implement a library-lending paradigm, where the material is unreadable after four weeks, but in the case of academic journals, you don't want to limit access like that, so the DocuRights system doesn't allow people to put that type of restriction on it. … It is specific to the needs of the academic journal community.
Two other examples of segment-specific DRM technologies are Microsoft's and Adobe's e-book technologies, which are specific to
e-books and not applicable outside of book publishing.
On the other hand, DRM technologies like Microsoft's and Adobe's e-book production software, while they're specific to the book market, allow a publisher to define rights in a very flexible and detailed way. You can use Adobe technology to support a library-lending or purchasing paradigm. …
End users can borrow a book for a month, or reserve room in a research library, where they can access any material for a day. You can set the parameters.
There are also services like netLibrary and ebrary that implement different ways of granting access. Open eBook Forum has been working on standards that let publishers set rights in great detail; the Rights and Rules Working Group is extending existing rights expression language standards in ways that are specific to the needs of e-book publishers. … That was a project I worked on last year on behalf of AAP [Association of American Publishers].
9. Is there a price range publishers can expect to pay for digital rights management software? What factors will affect the cost?
In the early days, DRM technology vendors thought they could get a percentage of the revenue for each transaction. But publishers told them to take a hike; I know—I was working at McGraw-Hill at the time, and I was one of them.
Now, I don't know if there are any who get part of the transaction revenue. Usually, they'll charge a fee for the software license, and sometimes a variable fee based on the amount of content on the server, as opposed to the number of users or transactions.
Yet most publishers prefer to deal with an outsourcer who will deal with the packaging, run the server, etc., and will charge them on some basis for the service. The most important of these outsourcing companies in the United States is OverDrive. It is capable of handling almost all of the e-book formats—Microsoft, Adobe, Palm, Mobipocket.
Outsourcing is a good thing for publishers in a way, because it's an operational expense for publishers that they can put up against revenue, rather than an upfront capital expense for the staff and technology needed to do it.
Some technology companies will also act as outsourcers. DocuRights' PDF Store acts as an outsourcer in STM, as does Cadmus' RapidRights.
And, companies like netLibrary and ebrary can be thought of in this way—as service providers. What a publisher will need just depends on their objectives and business models.
- Noelle Skodzinski