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Digital Rights Management vs. Enforcement

On his blog, Bob DuCharme makes the point that what we usually refer to as Digital Rights Management really refers to Enforcement, and that the actual management of rights is both more complex and more important:

The management of digital rights, as opposed to their enforcement, is a real problem in the publishing industry, but discussion is usually drowned out by the shouting matches about digital rights enforcement. Here’s a typical use case: an editor wants to take an article with six pictures from her magazine’s print edition and put it online. Two of the pictures come from a cookbook being reviewed by the article, two were shot for the article by a freelancer, and two come from a stock photo house. Which images can the editor use in the online version?

This is an issue we wrestle with regularly at O’Reilly, especially in the context of digital distribution. For Safari Books Online, royalties are calculated with a fairly straightforward formula involving print MSRP, page views, and a few other variables. Recently, we’ve added video content to Safari, which presented the challenge of applying the concept of "page views" to video (we settled in part on using time increments as an analog).

Remix application SafariU also presented a more nuanced set of use-cases. The original intent was to calculate based on the proportion of pages a particular work represented within a custom book. But this potentially favored books with smaller trim sizes, where the same amount of content would usually require more pages. So in the end we normalized all the content to the same trim size (using XML, XQuery, and XSL-FO) prior to rendering out as PDF.

Part of the problem is a lack of systems and standards for dealing with this stuff sanely, as Bob rightly notes:

Whether you build or buy a system to track this, there are three basic approaches, but first, a note on software: there are vendors who will tell you "our fabulous product takes care of all that! Simply check in the pictures or other content and enter the re-use terms, and then you can look it up any time!" I’m not interested in this unless the software can read and write the re-use terms in a standard format whose specs are independent of the software.

(That last sentence could really be applied to nearly every vendor evaluation you do: "I’m not interested in this unless the software can read and write _____ in a standard format whose specs are independent of the software")

It’d be great to see a constructive dialog on these crucial rights management issues that sets aside the highly-charged topic of enforcement.

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