[rumori] more WSJ on copyright


From: Steev Hise (steevATdetritus.net)
Date: Thu Jul 27 2000 - 11:24:01 PDT


July 24, 2000

In the Age of Napster,
We Face Copyright Gap

By THOMAS E. WEBER
WITH CONCERN ABOUT NAPSTER and Gnutella running at a fever pitch, it's
beginning to look like the death of copyright is at hand. Now that
millions of users have access to technology that lets them swap songs,
movies or anything else that can be stuffed into a computer file, the
ability to protect intellectual property appears to be evaporating before
our eyes.

But there's another side fighting in this online arms race. Companies all
over the Internet are working on systems designed to thwart rampant
piracy. Using the same kinds of high-tech codes that protect your
credit-card numbers from prying eyes on the Net, these companies are
developing ways to lock up digital content so that only paying customers
have the key to open a movie or song file.

Make no mistake: there's no panacea for the copyright woes. The impact of
peer-to-peer technologies like Gnutella and Napster is just beginning to
be understood, and control over the millions of songs floating around
these systems is probably lost forever. But there's still plenty of
intellectual property that hasn't been Napsterized -- not just popular
fare like novels, but also high-value content like textbooks and market
research.

THE CHALLENGE IS TO FIND an equilibrium in this escalating battle. During
the early days of the Cold War, hawks worried about a "missile gap" that
supposedly left the U.S. vulnerable to the Soviet Union's more effective
weaponry. Instead of the death of intellectual property, perhaps we only
face a copyright gap, a time when methods for protecting copyright
material just haven't caught up. Can the publishers of the world make it
easier to buy content than to steal it?

"The idea that copyright is dead is rubbish," says John Schwarz, CEO of
Reciprocal, one of the companies hoping to make its fortune by narrowing
the copyright gap. "If the people who create content cannot protect their
rights, pretty soon there won't be any content," he says.

Right now when you buy a book or a CD, you're not buying the intellectual
property itself but instead the right to use it a certain way. You can
listen to a CD or make a tape of it for yourself, but you don't have the
right to make 100,000 duplicates and sell or give them away. Consumers
rarely think about those rights, because until now, making a tape for a
friend has been simple but cranking out those thousands of duplicates
hasn't.

To understand what Reciprocal and its competitors are up to, here's
another new buzzword from the Net vocabulary: digital rights management,
or DRM. The goal of DRM systems is to make digital content behave in a way
that parallels a consumer's rights. When someone buys a song in digital
form, it should behave in a way that makes it easy for the purchaser to
listen to, and even lend to a friend, but highly impractical to duplicate
on a large scale.

To do that, DRM systems seal up content in a tamper-proof electronic box
protected by mathematical codes that are practically impossible to break.
Legitimate users get the appropriate cyber-keys. Those keys can be overt,
like a password, or hidden away on your computer or associated with a
particular Internet address.

The concept is fraught with potential problems. Historically, systems that
are hard to use or too draconian about copying simply don't catch on with
consumers. That's what happened with digital audio tape players, which
have built-in copy protection circuits. More recently, the Divx video-disk
system, which restricted access to movies, failed. (Hackers have since
appropriated the name for a new system that stores movies on PCs.)
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BUT IF DRM COMPANIES CAN get it right, their systems could open up new
possibilities -- and new ways for authors, artists and publishers to make
money. "You have so much flexibility here," says Ranjit Singh, president
of ContentGuard, a Xerox spinoff that develops DRM technology. Consumers
could buy a season-pass style subscription to all of a particular
publisher's books, or buy only the songs they want from an album.

As Internet access becomes more pervasive and consumers have routine
access to high-speed broadband connections, DRM systems will gain an
advantage. That's because it will become easier to store all those songs
and Stephen King e-novels up on an Internet server someplace, tapping them
by Net when desired rather than storing copies locally. Access to these
so-called digital lockers can be controlled more easily. NetLibrary of
Boulder, Colo., uses this approach to offer digital versions of textbooks
and reference works in university and public libraries.

None of this is likely to shut down Napster or the other music-swapping
systems. Music is especially susceptible to online piracy because it's
distributed so widely in an unprotected digital form, the compact disk.
But other forms of content, particularly books, won't become widely
available in digital form until DRM systems are in place.

Meanwhile, as the arms race rages on, some antipiracy gadflies have
discovered some relatively low-tech ways of thwarting the peer-to-peer
networks. These protesters take useless computer files, then name them
with the titles of popular songs and put them on the system, tricking
people into downloading the garbage. If these protests catch on, Napster
users might once again find it easier to just go to the record store.

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