Monday, August 12, 2013

Watermarking DRM Could Offer New Opportunities

Many see DRM as a glass half empty and also a barrier to interoperability, others see it as a means of restricting abuse, copyright infringement and piracy. The solution may not be as black and white as many believe.

Only a few years ago we would have advocated the wholesale dropping of DRM and a position similar to that adopted by MP3 music. Today however, there is potential for a softer approach to DRM to offer great opportunities for the marketplace. 

First we must accept that the current prevailing ‘unsocial’ or encrypted DRM serves few and in fact in many cases can be broken fairly easily. The major retail channels have walked away from a common standard and have created their own DRM ‘walled gardens’. There is little point in pointing a finger at Amazon, as Apple, Kobo, Nook all have their own DRM flavours and Adobe’s ACS4 is still locked into 2006 and apparently going nowhere fast. There are even some who are now actively pursuing the establishment of DRM on HTML5.

There is watermarking, which through the provision of a sort of an ‘ex libris’ stamp, offers a softer and more social form of DRM. Some would argue that watermarking can be removed, or abused, as easily as it can be applied. However, watermarking offers visible authentication and ownership. If it were coupled to a virtual registration database then removal, or alteration, would quickly identify the file as a rogue. So in principle we have the opportunity to establish an ownership model, but what is in it for the consumer and the author and how does such a stamp offer a market opportunity?

Today it is not possible to resell a used ebook. This applies loosely to all digital files and although this is being tested by the likes of ReDigi in both the music and book markets, we remain tethered to the first sale doctrine. However, why would we not want to resell ebooks? Some would suggest a used ebook market could kill off the front list market, others that the author would see no revenues for the supplemental sales.
However, others would suggest that a vibrant used ebook market could actually stimulate the market and that offer revenues against not just the second but third, forth, fifth, etc sale of the ebook. If coupled with an authentication and audit trail, watermarking could create additional revenue for all, social information and marketing opportunities and mirror the rights on physical books. Importantly it could act as a significant barrier to pirates who would have to establish a different value proposition.

Today’s DRM is restrictive, segmented and frankly a mess but that doesn’t mean that we need to flip and go DRM free which equally may be counterproductive as it would be difficult to put the horse back in the stable once it has bolted. Alternately, we lack any watermarking standards today and this itself could inhibit the adoption of the technology.

The question is, who is seriously looking and discussing this issue today? Stumbling blindly forward with unsocial DRM is not the answer, nether is a mass exodus to no DRM.

1 comment:

Peter Turner said...
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