Digital Copyright Protection Technologies



"Digital copyright." The phrase itself contains an inherent contradiction. Digital technologies make near perfect reproduction simple and affordable. Copyright laws make various unauthorized forms of reproduction illegal. Copyright holders want to use the digital technology to deliver their valuable property to a wider audience. But they also want the value of their property preserved in an environment which makes protection difficult. Internet communications companies must attract digital content to be able to grow their own infrastructure investments. But the technology which makes value-added services possible can also be misappropriated to make copyright infringement a definite possibility. Holding information distributors liable for the handling of content over which they have no knowledge and little control, however, throws the entire dynamic of the Internet into serious question. Small wonder the issue is so contentious and often so confusing.

Neither treaties nor legislation have yet to bring balance to the situation. Perhaps such an expectation is unrealistic, at least for the short term. Compared to information technology, law moves at a glacial pace. At the same time, content and Internet access and service providers need to work together cooperatively to establish a safe environment for content distribution and a worthwhile investment in the infrastructure. The Internet communications community is working to develop technology tools which empower copyright holders to protect their content at the level they believe is required.

The latest technologies which content providers can utilize – at various levels – to protect and allow access providers to identify their works include digital envelopes, encrypted signal streams, software metering methods and tools, digital watermarks, authentication devices, digital signatures and copyright management tools. Business practices are also beginning to be established that will further protect copyrighted works placed in the digital environment. For example, a copyright holder fearing rampant unauthorized copying of content on its web site may configure its content server to selectively serve up the content only to third party proxy servers that agree to certain copying rules and restrictions.

Some of these new protection tools provide varying degrees of security, allow the payment of royalties, and/or track violations so that the true offenders – the "initiators" of unauthorized reproductions – can be dealt with within the framework of the current and enforceable copyright laws. As with most emerging technologies, there is a varying degree of protection and efficiency among technologies available for copyright protection. The array of options allows content owners to select the level of protection they feel most accurately represents their need for protection instead of being shoe-horned into a one-size-fits-all legislative category. The choice is left in the hands of those in a position most able to make the correct decision.

The "debate" as it were should not be "who is responsible," but rather, how to best work together to protect this valuable medium and the content which will be distributed on it. The Internet access and service providers and the copyright holders and content providers are allies, not enemies. As with any successful community, the citizens of this digital community must work together to efficiently, economically, profitably deliver to the legitimate end-user, enhanced and copyright protected valuable content.

Protection rests on three principles: (1) enforcement of copyright laws; (2) education of end-users and customers; and (3) embracing protection-empowering technologies at the beginning of the distribution cycle. Cross-industry cooperation and self-regulation will enhance digital copyright protection and spread the value of Internet and the World Wide Web to a wider audience.

Continue to next page.