Rights Management Can Protect or Offend

Companies should tread carefully when using Microsoft's tool for limiting employee access to corporate documents.

Ask people about digital rights management and most will offer an opinion regarding the rights and wrongs of peer-to-peer file swapping. But ask Microsoft and youre more likely to hear about their plan to protect corporate documents, intranets and e-mail using technology that sits atop Windows Server 2003.

While Microsoft doesnt seem to have a corporate opinion on the fair use of entertainment content, there can be few questions about the companys view of corporate data protection. Microsoft believes its business customers have a need, even a responsibility, to better manage access to corporate information, perhaps aggressively at times. And Redmond thinks its created just the tool for the task.

One example Microsoft uses to demonstrate the need for its solution is the CEO who several years ago wrote a memo that, among other things, criticized employees for not working long enough hours, not working hard enough and not working often enough on weekends. The memo was so Scrooge-like in approach and content that when a leaked copy got on the Internet it cost the CEO his job and the company a significant portion of its share price. Had rights management been in place, the message might never have leaked out. Whether thats a good or bad thing is for you to decide.

/zimages/2/28571.gifClick here to read more about Windows Rights Management Services.

More commonly, however, rights management would be used in business to keep private information from being shared, even accidentally. The Microsoft solution would, for example, prevent an outsider from opening a document e-mailed to them by mistake, perhaps when another Microsoft product, Outlook, automatically completed a recipient name and sent the file before the sender noticed it was going to the wrong person.

Of course, the technology can be used for things like locking down documents from improper use by insiders, including insuring compliance with federal privacy regulations in health care and other industries.

I have not spent much time playing with Microsofts Rights Management Services, as its version of DRM for enterprises is known. But Ive seen the demonstrations, interviewed the product managers and spoken with analysts. Ive also had discussions with Microsoft execs in other business units who see rights management having a place in even the smallest businesses.

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