DRM: How to Ease Customers Pain

Digital rights management still holds many pain points, particularly for consumers. According to speakers at this week's DRM Strategies conference, companies need to be more inventive.

NEW YORK—Is DRM scaring off consumers? If digital content providers want to sell more music files, downloadable video and e-books, digital rights management should either get a lot better or get out of the way, according to some of the speakers at this weeks DRM Strategies conference here.

Many consumers havent even heard of DRM yet, said Dr. Thorsten Wichmann, managing director of Berelcon Research GmbH, a group thats researching consumer acceptance of DRM-based content services.

But among those who are aware of the acronym, DRM tends to set off alarm bells instead of happy connotations.

"A good [DRM] service will tell you what you can do, not what you cant do," according to Wichmann.

Outside of the consumer world, DRM carries much different meanings. In the enterprise space, DRM technologies have been typically deployed for secure document management, noted Mike Merigan, of Liquid Machines, in a visit with Ziff Davis Internet on the expo floor.

/zimages/1/28571.gifClick here to read how patent disputes are slowing the adoption of DRM.

Increasing needs for document security are now giving rise to a new subcategory of products—ERM (enterprise rights management). "The drivers are IP (intellectual property) and [regulatory] compliance," according to Diane Fayle, also of Liquid Machines.

Yet among digital entertainment-minded consumers, what kinds of rights should DRM confer? It is common for people to erroneously view DRM as one and the same as copyright management. But in fact, content providers can also use DRM to grant a range of other rights, such as resale rights, for instance, speakers said during a panel discussion.

On the other hand, content providers such as music firms really cant sell any of these rights without permission from the creative artist, said Howie Singer, vice president of technology at Warner Music Group.

Speakers agreed that, regardless of which rights are at stake, those rights should be clearly spelled out in words that just about anyone can understand.

Beyond DRM, some consumers are still naïve about digital technology in general, according to Singer, who served as moderator of the "Emerging Business Models for DRM" panel.

Hearkening back to his previous job at AT&T, Singer told a true story about a customer who complained to the company about his new videophone. The man voiced disgruntlement that "when he called his mother, he couldnt see her." As it turned, though, the problem had a low-tech explanation. The mans Mom hadnt been outfitted with a videophone to use at the other end of the line.

The need to deal with many conflicting digital file formats holds back the market, too, according to speakers at the show.

"You dont want [consumers] to have to [turn into] systems administrators," said Chris Parkerson, DRM evangelist for RSA Security, another panelist in the session.

"We need a [DRM] service thats an abstraction [layer]," according to Stefan Roever, president and CEO of Navio Technologies.

/zimages/1/28571.gifClick here to read more about how DRM is hindered by a lack of interoperability.

Citing examples of how such a service might work, Roever said that customers ordering content from PCs might get their content downloaded in Windows Media format, whereas customers buying over the phone would get receive their music in UMA (Universal Multimedia Access).

How else can content providers win favor with consumers? One way is through creative "bundling"—or packaging—of digital media rights, according to Parkerson. "People dont want to buy ten songs. They want to buy one song," he told the conference audience.

Similarly, as the success of TiVO has already shown, its quite feasible to "unbundle" advertising from creative content.

Parkerson also exhorted content providers to stop selling files, and start selling content rights. Under this scenario, he said, consumers wont get the sense theyve thrown away their money if todays file formats grow outdated due to technological change.

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