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DRM in the physical word – Burning the book

Thoughts in the lab

In the lab part of the class on Feb 25, 2009 we started a new project. This time
we are able to choose between two topics. One project is a wearable device to extend the
human body. The other project is a physical digital rights management (DRM), meaning
that the way DRM handles digital resources is transfered into the physical world. A physical
artifact like a book, newspaper or DVD (this does not refer to CSS or other digital protection
to handle the access to the digital content) is “managed” through the usage of a Physical Rights
Management (PRM) device.

So we started a brainstorming process. We want to be able to manage the access to a book in the
same way this is done by DRM for electronic resources. So our initial idea was to limit the usage
of a book to a certain place. This would mean that the book can only be read and kept within a designated
place (e. g. the library). If the book leaves the designated space it will destroy itself in order to prevent
the “unlawful” usage. This is necessary because there is no other reliable mechanism that prevents the
usage of the book once it has left the designated reading area. So our plan is to burn the book.

However, this has some problem. First, it might violate laws and safety regulations. Second, the user
could extinguish the fire and then keep on using the book. Third, the user could disable the device setting
the book on fire. Finally, the device needs a logic to decide that the book is going to burn and a reliable
ignition mechanism.

So our next thought is to restrict the copying and scanning of books within libraries (or later in general).
In order to achieve this locking, each book has to be equipped with a small and invisible RFID tag identifying
the book. Once the book is places on the photocopier, the PRM enforcement device will recognize the book.

Several implementations are imaginable. The PRM could disable the photocopy or scanning machine immediately once a book is recognized. Or the PRM could start a time that allows the scanning or copying of approximately one to two chapters of the book per day. This would help to enforce the fair usage of the copyright law.
It is also possible that the DRM allows copying or scanning AFTER the user asked a librarian. A authorized person has to set the device in order to allow the copying of a certain book (identified through an RFID tag).

Goals for next week

The goal for next weeks lab is to learn how to use the RFID reader. We should be able to equip some books with
RFID tags so that we can sense these books. On this we can build applications like described above.

Articles relating to the topic

Is Digital Rights Management an Intellectual Property Right?
C. Vidyadhar Bhatt

Journal of Library and Information Technology, Vol. 28, No.5 September 2008, pp 39-42

This article by Bhatt provides a short discussion of what DRM is and what its purpose is. Bhatt writes that the goal of DRM is “to protect the rights of the author, prevent piracy and encourage commerce, and to ensure that only paying consumers can access media”. This final part of this quote is particularly disturbing, the point about only paying consumers being able to access media. Such limitations would essentially destroy the magic that is the internet and it would be transformed into a virtual shopping mall – in my opinion this is a gross mutation and miss-understanding of the internet’s potential as a space for exchange of ideas, information, and more.

If you think of the internet in terms of public actual physical space, DRM, in the equivalent to benches designed to prevent people from lying down.

For instance:

designed for a certain kind of public

designed for a certain kind of public

Another example

Another example

Bhatt’s business-centric approach causes him to miss the potential social costs and implications of ubiquitous digitally managed media. He concludes by writing “for creators and all sorts of content communities, DRM is likely to enable the growth and success of the e-market and will be the key point in e-commerce system for marketing of digital content, and will enable a smooth, safe, secure movement of the digital work from the creator and producer to the retailers”. Bhatt presents DRM as a wonderful thing, which depending on your stance, it might be. But, he is completely missing or dodging issues of privacy, fair-use and fair copyright.

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