Protection in the Digital Age
technologies are changing continually and at a lightening-fast
Technological advancement has brought us both high-quality
digital content as well as devices for easily managing that content. As a result, tasks that were once difficult or impossible
to accomplish — or staggeringly expensive — are now
simple, affordable and even commonplace. But in this Information
Age, has sharing become too
music enthusiasts can buy their favorite audio CDs,
"rip" the tracks into digital files on a personal
computer (PC), and upload them to a personal digital assistant
(PDA) for a little musical enjoyment anytime, anywhere.
When consumers purchase a CD, they are purchasing the rights
to its contents for their own "fair use," provided that
they do not attempt to distribute or profit from possession of
that media. The same right applies to movies, periodicals and
other copyrighted material.
Today's ease of legally manipulating digital media has come
with the increased potential for illegal distribution of that media.
For example, a consumer can digitally retrieve audio tracks from a
legally purchased CD and copy them onto a PC. With a few swift
mouse clicks, that same person can e-mail the entire CD to
a friend. Since the recipient no longer needs to buy that CD, the
company that sells the CD, the production company that distributes
the CD, and the band that made the CD have all lost money. This
illegal distribution is termed "piracy" and it is costing
media corporations billions of dollars each year in lost revenue
from copyrighted materials.
According to the
Intellectual Property Protection Act of 2002 (H.R. 5057),
introduced by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) on 27 June, Congress
estimates that in 2001, the United States entertainment software
industry lost $1,800,000,000 in revenue, and the business software
industry lost $11,000,000,000 worldwide, due to piracy. Congress
also estimated that in 2001, the motion picture industry lost
$3,000,000,000 in potential worldwide revenue, the music industry
lost $4,300,000,000 worldwide, and the publishing industry lost
$636,000,000 worldwide, due to piracy — not including
losses due to online piracy
Currently, no foolproof solution
exists for curbing the piracy problem. In the past
few years, content providers have begun to incorporate Digital
Rights Management (DRM) technologies on their products. From movie
files that can only be played on a specific computer to DVDs with
Content Scramble System (CSS) encryption, DRM is slowly showing
up in consumer products. Protection measures like these can help
prevent the illegal reproduction of media, which, in turn, reduces
Part of the
success of DRM technology stems from the
Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). This revision to
copyright law was ratified so that the United States could meet
the standards of a World Trade Organization treaty seeking
unification of global copyright law to strengthen the
rights of copyright owners — media corporations included. A DMCA
provision makes circumventing DRM technology illegal,
even for fair use purposes. Furthermore, trafficking in
circumvention methods, whether they involve software or hardware,
is also illegal.
CSS was cracked by a program called DeCSS — a CSS
descrambling algorithm — the DVD
Copy Control Association (DVD CCA) aggressively pursued
criminal prosecution of companies that violated 'trade secret'
laws protecting the CSS code and the information contained on CSS-encrypted
DVDs. They also went after web sites that posted the DeCSS program
or pointed to places where it could be found on the Internet.
Such legal protection is one reason DVDs have enjoyed so much
success in recent years — content providers feel safe
releasing digital content in DVD format.
Although DRM is
proving successful, digital content providers feel that still more
needs to be done to protect their intellectual property. Since
hackers constantly try to crack all types of DRM — and
consistently succeed — some in industry are calling for the
government to step in and set mandatory copyright protection
Government Intervention Work?
government response is Sen. Ernest Hollings' (D-S.C.) Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion
Act. Hollings' plan would require all "digital media
devices" (computers, CD players, DVD players, digital
televisions, etc.) to have an onboard "standard security
technology" that prevents either the copy of digital media or
the playback of copied digital media. Hollings proposes getting
the key players in the technology and media industries together.
They would have one year to discuss and decide on a solution to
illegal copying before the government jumps in and enacts Hollings'
or another viable plan.
What does this
mean? If negotiations fail, the technology industry must implement
federally mandated hardware that prevents playback of illegal
content. Experts say that requiring new onboard copy protection
devices would severely hamper innovation. Developers would have to
spend a considerable amount of time re-engineering products to
adhere to the new standard. Furthermore, as technology advances,
onboard copyright devices would continually have to change to keep
pace. Thus, government regulation is nearly impossible. For all
intents and purposes, the Hollings bill has already been killed,
but similar legislation promises to keep cropping up as long as
industry is unable to find a viable solution.
What do security
measures like DRM and onboard copy control mechanisms do to fair
use? For one, the example of someone copying songs from a
legally obtained CD onto a portable device would no longer be possible.
CD manufacturers are already making CDs with DRM that cannot be played on
a computer; as a result, digital pirates cannot misuse the songs.
At the same time, however, fair use of these CDs is impeded
because songs cannot be transferred onto other devices for personal
use either. Is fair use a right or a luxury? Questions such as this are
common and illustrate the complex issues associated with the
copyright protection debate.
Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act serves as a
wake-up call to the technology industry rather than a threat. It
seems that the main problem that's hampering the adoption of an actual
solution to digital content rights is that the technology industry
and the content providers both refuse to budge from their
antithetical positions, and so the debate remains at a continual impasse. All involved in the debate agree, however, that the
controversial issue of copyright protection needs a timely and
sensible resolution so that the interests of consumers as well as
industry will be best served. Copyright owners and consumers alike need protection, and the
sooner the better — for everyone.
Green, a junior electrical engineering student at Baylor
University in Waco, Texas, is IEEE-USA's Intellectual Property