May 2nd, 2009
My colleague, Bill Rosenblatt, could be nicknamed (perhaps inelegantly) “Mr. DRM.” He remains, as far as I know, the leading American expert on the topic, having dealt with it in his work at various publishers since 1994, and writing extensively on the subject since 2001, including a website, newsletter, and now an excellent blog, Copyright and Technology. He also authored the standard text on DRM, Digital Rights Management: Business and Technology (Wiley, 2001) (with Bill Trippe and Stephen Mooney), as well as contributing a chapter (“Digital Rights and Digital Television”) to the new volume Television Goes Digital (Springer, 2009).
Bill explains his position on DRM this way:
My philosophy is that digital rights technologies are fundamental to the future of the Internet and other digital networks as viable media for news, culture, and entertainment. And my definition of rights technologies spans much more broadly than the “classical” definition of DRM: it includes technologies such as fingerprinting, watermarking, content identifiers (such as the DOI), and rights licensing schemes. (For example, my view is that Creative Commons is a rights technology — and a very successful one at that.)
As Lawrence Lessig says in his book Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, technology is one of four empirical forces that determine how people and businesses conduct themselves, others being laws, markets, and societal norms. We can argue about how those four forces do or should balance each other out, but my belief is that when it comes to digital content, markets and technology are ultimately the most powerful forces. Many attempts to manipulate the other two to control them are doomed to failure, especially when they are driven by people who fundamentally do not understand or appreciate technology and how it interacts with market forces.
The issue of digital rights management will be with us long after numerous seemingly-urgent technological challenges have been resolved. Every publisher, indeed everyone in the larger electronic publishing sphere, needs to keep a close eye on this topic as it evolves, and Bill Rosenblatt is who I’d recommend you turn to first.