When people argue about the prospect of mandatory digital rights management technologies, like those proposed in Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act (S.2048), the dispute typically turns on the conflict between the rights of content creators and the rights of free speech. But thats not the right ground on which to take sides for or against the bill. No matter what your feelings about that clash of legitimate ideals, you should still oppose this legislation.
Whats wrong with CBDTPA is that it imposes a single business model on an entire industry thats barely getting started. "Five or 10 years from now, well see a digital content marketplace bigger than anyone could say today without being laughed at—but only if we dont restrict it," said Michael Miron, CEO of ContentGuard, a leading developer of digital rights management technology, when we spoke late last month. "The notion that the private sector is at an impasse, and that government has to step in, is simply wrong."
Miron anticipates many models of content distribution, guided by industry-standard rights management languages. Toward that end, ContentGuard has contributed its Extensible Rights Markup Language, or XRML, to the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards.
"You need a way to express the rights, and you need a trust model that tells you youre granting rights to someone whos trustworthy," said Miron.
Different situations, said Miron, call for different balance points between protection of content and convenience of use. "The trust model for consumer delivery of an e-book or MP3 file will be different from the one you need for a scientist to download military secrets," he said.
CBDTPA, said Miron, effectively defines a rights language that can only say one thing—"You can read"—and an equally narrow trust model, "You must be a trustworthy device." It admits no gradations along any spectrum of privileges or requirements. Its hard enough to devise a rights management scheme that wont be quickly broken; lets not compound the problem by pretending that CBDTPA is the one size that will fit all.
Send your bill of digital rights to firstname.lastname@example.org.