Digital rights and their managers

Electronic rights and copy protection systems leave many questions unanswered among users and privacy advocates

Digital rights management systems are hotly contested: The media industry, associations and some political parties are lobbying for copy protection and individual compensation of authors. But privacy advocates warn of new threats to user privacy. The German government also considers the systems not yet technically mature and insists on securing the right to private copying.

Politicians from the CDU and FDP are pushing for them (cf.CDU is going down the net path), associations like Bitkom have been calling for them for a long time: procedures for individual billing of specifically used, copyrighted works. For the copying or playing of such forms of intellectual property, as a rule, compensation is provided for the income lost by the artist, according to the law. The latter is currently hit mainly by the imposition of flat fees on copying devices. PCs and other digital data processing machines are also to be subject to such copyright levies, according to the current plans of German Justice Minister Herta Daubler-Gmelin. But the manufacturers fear that this could make the devices much more expensive. In addition, the fairness of the regulation is not good, since no differentiation is made between power users and occasional users.

Producers and large media groups also advocate individual copy protection and remuneration systems, as this would allow them to control the rights of the user much better than before. If the buyer of a book or a CD, for example, still has the right not only to make private copies, but also to pass them on to friends or to lend them out, in the digital future these possibilities will depend on the goodwill of the content industries – or on the consumer’s wallet. According to Hansjurgen Garstka, Berlin’s data protection commissioner, things are moving in the direction of users being able to decide for themselves how long they want to listen to a piece of music and how often they can copy it.

There is a threat of loss of important personal rights

The in itself fairer form of billing could therefore pay the consumer with the loss of previously existing rights. The negative balance of the systems favored by the industry and already developed in basic features, for example, for the relaunch of the music site Napster, is aggravated by potential data protection problems. Thus warned the experts of the International Working Group on Privacy in Telecommunications at their symposium "Data protection and intellectual property on the Internet" on Monday on the fringes of the International Consumer Electronics Fair (IFA) in Berlin, that the publishers or the service companies commissioned by them could also store detailed user profiles with the new copy protection procedures for billing purposes, which constitute an invitation to abuse.

Design of DRM systems is still in its infancy

The design of digital rights management (DRM) systems, which are intended to enable the locking of content and monitor usage rights, is still in its infancy. "The first solutions will still work with strong flat rates", explains Stephan Jaekel, Director Public Policy at Bertelsmann eCommerce Group (BeCG), which holds a stake in Napster and is responsible for the relaunch of the legendary music service, which has already been postponed several times.

Individualized forms of billing, in which sensitive personal data are stored without the incorporation of additional techniques for anomymization, are said to have been used in the first generation of Napster 2.0 due to the high development costs of such "Refinements" for example, are not to be expected. Instead, users could choose between different subscription models. In principle, however, it is the declared goal of the media corporations to install such procedures.

The core of DRM systems is a type of software shell that defines and attempts to enforce rules for copying, storing or playing copyrighted products on various devices. According to Jaekel, the high art now lies in the following, "to couple all this with copyright levies." A desired side effect of the DRM technology could also be, said Johann Bizer of the Institute for Public Law at the University of Frankfurt in Berlin, that the providers could improve their procedures for the protection of intellectual property "Online profiling" of their customers even better. The lawyer sees an important purpose of the rights management systems in feeding the databases of marketing departments. In the process, existing data protection regulations such as the principle of data economy or the prohibition of linking different data sets without the express consent of the consumer were frequently violated.

However, the planned upgrading of DRM systems with individual billing procedures must not lead to the recording of all traces that a customer leaves behind, for example, when buying a piece of music, the data protection experts demand. Alexander Dix, Brandenburg’s state data protection commissioner, and his colleague Garstka therefore urge the copyright industry to, "Consider privacy-friendly payment methods."

Don’t always fish for the user

Bizer also wants copyright and exploitation rights holders to stop their coercive takedowns of users and customers, and instead crack down harder on unauthorized providers of protected works. This is a solution that is much more compatible with German data law, which actually only allows users of tele- and media services to be identified for billing purposes, than fishing for consumers. The provider identification is prescribed in several laws and should also become mandatory internationally.

The producers and the exploiters have also made the calculation without the crackers, who have so far still made every blood dream of an "secure" copy protection system. The few providers of DRM systems already on the market, such as the Bertelsmann subsidiary Digital World Services, advertise that they encrypt each individual file differently, so that decryption is not even worthwhile. "Data Processing Machines" as the computer, Andy Muller-Maguhn of the Chaos Computer Club (CCC) disagrees, "will not be stopped from processing data." Lee Bygrave, research assistant at the Norwegian Research Centre for Computers and Law at the University of Oslo, agrees with him that there is no absolute technical answer to the principle of circumventing security infrastructures.

Right to private copy should be preserved

The German government is therefore still skeptical about individual copy protection systems and the remuneration of creators. Elmar Hucko, head of the department of commercial law in the Federal Ministry of Justice, considers that the implementation of all the promises made by the industry so far could be "not yet technically possible". At the data protection symposium, the official outlined the federal government’s position on the tension between data, user and copyright protection: "We have to balance between the personal rights of the citizens and the right of existence of the authors."

In principle, it is not impossible that the lump-sum remuneration laid down in the Copyright Act and its administration by collecting societies could also be "individually" could be regulated. At the earliest, however, it would be possible to consider such a change in the law in two to three years, if the usefulness of DRM systems had been proven by then.

Hucko, on the other hand, has no doubts about the federal government’s adherence to the consumer’s right to private copying to a reasonable extent. In principle, the directive on copyright ied by the European Commission in the spring of this year will strengthen the position of providers who want to put works under the digital seal with the help of techniques such as DRM (Link: Private copying – threatened with extinction). The national legislators are also to legally sanction the protective measures within 18 months. However, they are also given the opportunity to put certain limits on the claims of authors and exploiters, who could theoretically try to technically prevent any form of copying.

If copy-protected CDs disappear from the stores again?

The Commission has also given the member states a free hand in maintaining the right to private copying, which, according to Hucko, the German government definitely wants to preserve even in the digital age. "Otherwise, we are largely a nation of criminals and convicts", the government envoy said, explaining the plan, which was also supported by the device manufacturers. The sellers of media content therefore had to construct their systems in such a way that they could only "at the third or fourth copy" and prevented further duplication. "We will make that clear legislatively", said Hucko. "Total blocking" copy protection procedures are not desired in this country.

This position was not very comfortable, especially for the music industry, which plans to put fully copy-protected CDs on the market in the fall on a large scale. As soon as the reorganization of the copyright law outlined by Hucko went over the stage, they had to change their copy protection systems in all probability already again and adapt to the legal situation.