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Copyright, Blockchain, Technology and the State of Digital Piracy

January 15, 2017 Leave a comment
The next installment of one of my favourite conferences on copyright and technology is right around the corner, on January 24th in NYC, and as usual it promises some interesting: debate, controversy and hot-off-the-press insights into the murky world of copyright business, technology, and legislation. Plus, this year, it also features a panel on the game changing technology of blockchain and its myriad disruptive applications across entire industries, including copyright and the creative industries.

Thankfully, the inclusion of this panel session recognises the never-ending role of new and innovative technologies in shaping the evolution of Copyright. Ever since that first mass copy technology (i.e. the printing press) raised questions of rights ownership, and due recompense for works of the mind, new technologies for replicating and sharing creative content have driven the wheel of evolution in this area. Attendees will doubtless benefit from the insight and expertise of this panel of speakers as well as moderator and Program Chair, Bill Rosenblatt, who questioned (in a recent blog post), the practicality, relevance and usefulness of blockchain in a B2C context for copyright. You are in for a treat.

This is a very exciting period of wholesale digital transformation, and as I mentioned once or twice in previous articles and blog-posts, the game is only just beginning for potential applications of: blockchain, crypto currencies, smart licences and sundry trust mechanisms in the digital domain. In an age of ubiquitous content and digital access, the focus of copyright is rightfully shifting away from copying and moving towards the actual usage of digital content, which brings added complexity to an already complex and subjective topic. It is far too early to tell if blockchain can provide a comprehensive answer to this challenge.

The Copyright and Technology conference series have never failed to provide some thought-provoking insights and debates driven by expert speakers across multiple industries. In fact, I reconnected recently with a couple of previous speakers: Dominic Young and Chris Elkins, who are both still pretty active, informed and involved in the copyright and technology agenda. Dominic, ex-CEO of the UK’s Digital Catapault, is currently working on a hush hush project that will potentially transform the B2C transaction space. Chris is co-founder Muso, a digital anti-piracy organisation which has successfully secured additional funding to expand its global footprint with innovative approaches to anti-piracy. For example, if you ever wondered which countries are most active in media piracy, then look no further than Muso’s big data based state of digital piracy reports. Don’t say I never tell you anything.

In any case, I look forward to hearing attendees impressions on the Copyright and Technology 2017 conference, which I’m unable to attend / participate this timme unfortunately. In the meantime, I’ll continue to spend my spare time, or whatever brain capacity I have left, with pro-bono activities that allow me to: meet, mentor / coach and advise some amazing startups on the dynamic intersection of IP, business and technology. More on that in another post.

More Perils of Reusing Digital Content

February 7, 2016 1 comment
Some time ago I wrote an article and blog post entitled “the perils of reusing digital content” looking at the key challenges facing users of digital content which thanks to the power of computing and the Internet has become more easily available, transferable and modifiable. It says a lot about the age in which we live that this is still not universally perceived to be a good thing. It also explored the Creative Commons model as a complementary alternative to a woefully inadequate and somewhat anachronistic copyright system in the digital age. Since then the situation has got even more complex and challenging thanks to the introduction of newer technologies (e.g. IoT), more content (data, devices and channels), and novel trust / sharing mechanisms such as blockchain. 


I’ve written a soon-to-be-published article about blockchain, from which the following excerpt is taken:  “Blockchains essentially provide a digital trust mechanism for transactions by linking them sequentially into a cryptographically secure ledger. Blockchain applications that execute and store transactions of monetary value are known as cryptocurrencies, (e.g. Bitcoin), and they have the potential to cause significant disruption of most major industries, including finance and the creative arts. For example, in the music industry, blockchain cryptocurrencies can make it economically feasible to execute true micro-transactions, (i.e. to the nth degree of granularity in cost and content). There are already several initiatives using blockchain to demonstrate full transparency for music payments – e.g. British artiste Imogen Heap’s collaboration with UJO Music features a prototype of her song and shows how income from any aspect of the song and music is shared transparently between the various contributors.”


The above scenario makes it glaringly obvious that IP protection in digital environments should be focused more on content usage transparency rather than merely providing evidence or enforcing copying and distribution restrictions. The latter copy and distribute restriction model worked well in a historically analog world, with traditionally higher barriers-to-entry, whereas the former transparent usage capability plays directly to the a strength of digital – i.e. the ability to track and record usage and remuneration transactions to any degree of granularity, (e.g. by using blockchain).


Although it may sound revolutionary and possibly contrary to the goals of today’s content publishing models, in the longer term, this provides a key advantage to any publisher brave enough to consider digitising and automating their publishing business model. Make no mistake, we are drawing ever closer to the dawn of fully autonomous business models and services where a usage / transparency based IP system will better serve the needs of content owners and publishers.


In a recent post, I described a multi-publishing framework which can be used to enable easier setup and automation of the mechanisms for tracking and recording all usage transactions as well as delivering transparent remuneration for creator(s) and publisher(s). This framework could be combined with Creative Commons and blockchains to provide the right level of IP automation needed for more fluid content usage in a future that is filled with autonomous systems, services and business models.


Fighting Piracy with Education

May 11, 2014 Leave a comment

According to a BBC news report, it seems that a deal to tackle digital piracy is about to be realised between major UK ISPs and key content and entertainment industry organisations. Given that it took several years of wrangling to get to this point, the obvious question is whether this particular deal will work to the satisfaction of all concerned?

Education versus Piracy

The report describes how the UK ISPs (i.e. BT, Sky, TalkTalk and VirginMedia) will be required to send ‘educational’ letters, or alerts, to users they believe are downloading illegal content. Among other things, the deal is predicated on the belief that increased awareness of legal alternatives will encourage such users away from illegal content acquisition, casual infringement and piracy. This voluntary alert system will be funded mainly by the content industry who in return will get monthly stats on alerts dished out by the ISPs. Overall, this deal is far removed from the more punitive “3 strikes” system originally mooted in the early days of the Digital Economy Act.

As with most cases there are 2 or more sides to the story, and below are some considerations to be taken into account before drawing your own conclusions, including:

1. Critics of this deal, i.e. presumably the content providers, will consider this too soft an approach to be effective in curbing the very real and adverse economic impact of piracy.

2. Supporters, including ISPs, will likely see this as fair compromise for securing their cooperation in tackling piracy, and a win-win for them and their customers.

3. Another perspective comprises the view of regulators and government intermediaries (aka brokers of this deal), who likely consider it a practical compromise which can always be tweaked depending on its efficacy or lack thereof.

4. There are probably many other viewpoints to be considered, but, in my opinion, the most important perspective belongs to the end-users who ultimately stand to benefit or suffer from the success or failure of this initiative, especially since:

  • there is evidence that education trumps punishment when it comes to casual content piracy – e.g. the HADOPI experience in France which has effectively evolved into an educational campaign against copyright infringement.
  • content consumers already have far too much choice over the source and format of content anyway, so punitive measures may not necessarily solve the piracy problem, if they can get content via other illegal means.
  • any perceived failure of this deal, and its ‘educational’ approach, could lend support for more draconian and punitive measures, therefore it is in the interest of consumers to see it succeed.

5. Industrial scale piracy, on the other hand must be tackled head-on, with the full weight of the law, in order to close down and discourage the real criminal enterprises that probably do far more damage to the content industry.

In any case, regardless of how you view this and other similar developments, it is always worth bearing in mind that we are only in a period of transition to a comprehensive digital existence, therefore all current challenges and opportunities are certain to change, as new technology and usage paradigms continue to drive and reveal ever more intriguing changes in consumer behaviours. This battle is far from over.

Copyright and Technology in 2013

November 18, 2013 Leave a comment

Last month’s conference on copyright and technology provided plenty of food for thought from an array of speakers, organisations, viewpoints and agendas. Topics and discussions ran the gamut of increasingly obvious “business models are more important than technology” to downright bleeding edge “hypersonic activation of devices from outdoor displays “. There was something to take away for everyone involved. Read on for highlights.

The Mega Keynote interview: Mega’s CEO Vikram Kumar, discussed how the new and law-abiding cloud storage service is proving attractive to professionals who want to use and pay for the space, security and privacy that Mega provides. This is a far cry from the notorious MegaUpload, and founder Kim Dotcom’s continuing troubles with charges of copyright infringement, but there are still questions about the nature of the service – e.g. the end-to-end encryption approach which effectively makes it opaque to outside scrutiny.  Read more about it here.

Anti-Piracy and the age of big data – Mark Monitor’s Thomas Sehested talked about the rise of data / content monitoring and anti-piracy services in what he describes as the data driven media company. He also discussed the demise of content release windows, and how mass / immediate release of content across multiple channels lowers piracy, but questioned if this is more profitable.

Hadopi and graduated response – Hadopi’s Pauline Blassel gave an honest overview on the impact of Hadopi, including evidence of some reduction in piracy (by factor of 6M-4M) before stabilsation. She also described how this independent public authority delivers graduated response in a variety of ways e.g. from raising awareness to imposing penalties and focusing primarily on what is known as PUR (aka ‘Promotion les Usage Responsible’)

Auto Content Recognition (ACR) and the 2nd Screen – ACR is a core set of tools (including DRM, watermarking and fingerprinting), and the 2nd screen opportunity (at least for broadcasters) is all about keeping TV viewership and relevance in the face of tough competition for people’s time and attention. This panel session discussed monetisation of second screen applications, and the challenges of how TV is regulated, pervasive and country specific. Legal broadcast rights is aimed at protection of broadcast signals, which triggers the 2nd screen application, (e.g. via ambient / STB / EPG based recognition). This begs the question of what regulation should be applied to the 2nd screen, and what rights apply? E.g. Ads on TV can be replaced in the 2 screen, but what are the implications?

Update on the Copyright Hub – The Keynote address by Sir Richard Hooper, chair of the Copyright Hub and co-author of the 2012 report on Copyright Works: Streamlining Copyright Licensing for the Digital Age, was arguably the high point of the event. He made the point that although there are issues with copyright in the digital age, the creative industries need to get off their collective backsides and streamline the licensing process before asking for a change in copyright law. He gave examples of issues with the overly complex educational licensing process and how the analogue processes are inadequate for the digital age (e.g. unique identifiers for copyright works).

Sir Richard Hooper

Sir Richard Hooper

The primary focus of the Copyright Hub, according to Sir Richard, is to enable high volume – low value transactions, (e.g. to search, license and use copyright works legally) by individuals and SMEs. The top tier content players already have dedicated resources for such activities hence they’re not a primary target of the Copyright Hub, but they’ll also benefit by removing the need to deal with trivial requests for licensing individual items (e.g. to use popular songs for wedding videos on YouTube).

Next phase work, and other challenges, for the Copyright Hub include: enabling consumer reuse of content, architectures for federated search, machine to machine transactions, orphan works registry & mass digitisation (collective licensing), multi licensing for multimedia content, as well as the need for global licensing. Some key messages and quotes in the ensuing Q&A include:

  • “the Internet is inherently borderless and we must think global licensing, but need to walk before we can run”
  • “user-centricity is key.  People are happy not to infringe if easy / cheap to be legal”
  • “data accuracy is vital, so Copyright Hub is looking at efforts from Linked Content Coalition and Global Repertoire Database”
  • “Metadata is intrinsic to machine to Machine transactions – do you know it is a crime to strip metadata from content?”
  • “Moral rights may add to overall complexity”

As you can probably see from the above, this one day event delivered the goods and valuable insights to the audience, which included people from the creative / content industries, as well as technologists, legal practitioners, academics and government agencies. Kudos to MusicAlly, the event organiser, and to Bill Rosenblatt, (conference chair), for a job well done.

Next Stop: I’ll be discussing key issues and trends with Digital Economy and Law at a 2 day event, organised by ACEPI,  in Lisbon. Watch this space.

DRM, Content Protection, and the future of the Web

October 14, 2013 Leave a comment

I remember once when the mere mention of DRM stirred up such a frenzied reaction of blood boiling anger, outrage and disgust, from even the meekest of the meek. Thankfully those days are long gone, and DRM has been largely forgotten, or has it?

DRM Wordle

DRM and the Web

Sadly no, because DRM recently reared its dramatic head yet again following a decision by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to bring video content protection into scope for discussion in their HTML5 Working Group. So what does this mean? Well, it depends on who you ask of course, because the usual pros vs. cons battle lines, championed by various organisations and pundits, have opened up with distinct perspectives on the matter. The following are summary points, culled from a quick web search on the topic.

Some viewpoints in support of the decision:

  1. Sir Tim Berners Lee on Encrypted content and the Open Web – reiterated that W3C staff remain passionate about the open Web, and indeed abhor certain forms of content protection and DRM. However, he went on to explain how putting content protection in scope for discussion is the lesser evil, given that exclusion of this topic from the HTML WG discussions will not necessarily exclude it from anyone’s systems.
  2. W3C Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) Editor’s draft 17th September 2013 – According to the abstract, “the proposal extends HTMLMediaElement providing APIs to control playback of protected content.”  Also, the specification does not define any particular content protection or DRM system, but instead it defines a common API that may be used to discover, select and interact with various such mechanisms / DRM solutions.
  3. ArsTechnica “DRM in HTML5 is a victory for the open Web, not a defeat” – In this post, Peter Bright argues that EME will happen, one way or another, especially given how some important companies (i.e. Microsoft, Google and Netflix) are actively developing the specification. Furthermore, distributors of protected video content already use DRM, albeit outside the Web (e.g. via Microsoft’s Silverlight, Adobe Flash and / or mobile Apps). Finally, he concludes that EME will provide a way to deliver protected content via the Web instead of just using proprietary applications and plug-ins.  .

Other viewpoints against the decision:

  1. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), “Lowering Your Standards: DRM and the Future of the W3C” – The EFF strongly objects to the inclusion of “playback of protected content” into the scope of HTML Working Group’s new charter, stating that such a move would mean the controversial Encrypted Media Extension could be included in the HTML5.1 standard, which would effectively cede control of browsers to 3rd parties (i.e. content providers). Furthermore, they argue, this could ultimately damage the W3C’s reputation / perception as guardian of the open Web, and that other media formats (e.g. images, fonts and music) may push for equivalent content protection standards, over a rapidly fragmenting Web.
  2. Boing Boing “W3C’s DRM for HTML5 sets the stage for jailing programmers…” – Cory Doctorow discusses how the decision will open the possibility of punitive fines or imprisonment for programmers who dare to attempt improving web browsers in ways that displease Hollywood.
  3. DefectiveByDesign “Tell W3C: We don’t want the Hollyweb” – Calls for the W3C to reject the EME proposal, stating that it would damage freedom on the Web and enable unethical, restrictive business models, as well as proliferation of DRM plug-ins needed to play protected media content.

Regardless of which side you take in this debate, it is probably disingenuous to think that DRM ever went away, if anything, it has in fact been thriving in various digital content services and technologies, well outside the limelight and notoriety it had in the past – perhaps until now. One of the key things I learnt during my sojourn into the DRM debate over the last decade, was that most content businesses are ultimately pragmatic in nature, and they now understand that suing customers (or casual pirates depending on viewpoint) can be suicidal, hence the move away from dramatic headlines and into developing services that users actually want to use and pay for.  The saying holds true that the only good DRM system is invisible or transparent to the end user or consumer.

It could be argued that this current debate has arisen because the Web is designed, and perceived by many, to be open and universal, but it is this selfsame universality that allows even potentially restrictive models to have a place on the Web. In fighting for its own survival, and by openly considering inclusion of something like content protection, the W3C is actually living up to the open and universal remit of the Web. However, a real danger remains that commercial interests (aka content businesses) will almost certainly seize this opportunity to compete using flawed and restrictive business models, which will only throw DRM in the faces of their users, and possibly restart litigious campaigns against their users, once the latter decide again that unrestricted (and literally free) content is best. Truly, those that don’t learn from past mistakes are only doomed to repeat them.

In conclusion, although this is probably more than a mere storm in the proverbial teacup, the signs portend that this too shall pass into the annals of DRM aftershocks, in the grand scheme of things.  I say this with some confidence because whilst the DRM battle rages on, the world of digital content, copyright and the Internet continues to evolve new opportunities and challenges that will reshape the digital landscape. A recent example concerns the IP value of curation, e.g. playlists, as a candidate for copyright (e.g. see Ministry of Sound versus Spotify)

BTW:  I will be moderating a panel session, discussing Over the Top (OTT) video content protection, at the Copyright and Technology 2013 London conference, later this week. My panel of experts will most likely have something interesting to say about DRM and the Web. Why not join the debate at the event, if you are in London, otherwise I’ll keep you posted on this blog.

Copyright And Technology 2012 Conference

June 20, 2012 Leave a comment

Yesterday saw the first UK edition of this annual conference, which took place in London’s Kings Fund venue. The full day conference featured panels and expert speakers on that most interesting, challenging and potentially lucrative junction of copyright, content and technology. And, another buzzword for the ‘social’ melting pot – Social DRM!

Copyright And Technology Conference Word Cloud

Copyright And Technology Conference Word Cloud

The event format involved the usual keynotes and plenary sessions, during the morning segment, and a split into two streams, (covering technology and legal aspects), in the afternoon. My key take-aways include:

  1. User education on copyright content infringement is far too one-sided. According to expert copyright lawyer, Andrew Bridges, potential infringers / fans need ‘credible teachers’ with a more balanced agenda
  2. Traditional Hollywood release window is under threat (from user demand for content, here and now!)
  3. Piracy data collection / analysis are increasingly used by big content owners (e.g. Warner Bros and Harper Collins) to identify potential demand for specific content, via pirate channels. An interesting question by conference chair, Bill Rosenblatt, was whether content providers saw any potential for combining piracy data collection/analysis with social media buzz analysis, in order perhaps to help identify new market opportunities, remained mostly unanswered
  4. Media monitoring organisations can collect and analyse, (with consumers’ permission), actual usage data from user computers. According to the speaker from Warner Bros, their research apparently confirms claims that HADOPI has had an impact, with a recent decline in Peer-to-Peer file-sharing, in France.
  5. According to MarkMonitor, a high proportion of pirated ebook content are in the PDF format, which some think may be a result of easy portability between devices. Also, according to Harper Collins speaker, key motivational factors for ebook piracy include: Pricing, DRM and territorial restrictions.
  6. In the Technology stream, the panel on content identification (e.g. via fingerprinting vs. session based watermarking) discussed creation of content aware ecosystems using Automatic Content Recognition
  7. The term ‘Social DRM’ (a buzzword if I ever heard one) is the use of user information to uniquely identify digital content (and to potentially name and shame file sharers), as described by CEO of Icontact. One attendee grilled the presenter about ways and means to crack it! Apparently, the term Social DRM was coined by Bill McCoy at Adobe (now at IDPF), and is really just watermarking content with personally identifiable information
  8. Bill Rosenblatt described LCP (Lightweight Content Protection) for ePub as being somewhere in the middle of the content protection continuum (i.e. between no DRM and very strong DRM). Also, he observed that thepublishing industry stance on DRM is still in flux, and that genres such as (sci-fi, romance, IT) were mainly going DRM-free, whilst other e.g. higher education still used strong DRM to protect content
  9. Finally, my technology stream panel session on Security Challenges of Multi-Platform Content Distribution saw key contributions from experts, with multiple perspectives, from: a Security Consultant (Farncombe), DRM Provider (Nagra), Business PoV (Castlabs) and Content Provider / Owner (Sony Picture Entertainment).

Overall, this was a very good first outing for the Copyright and Technology conference in London. The co- organisers, GiantSteps and MusicAlly, did a great job to pull it off, despite disappointment (by last minute cancellation of a keynote) from the HADOPI Secretary General). I would certainly encourage anyone interested in the opportunities and challenges of content, technology and copyright to attend this conference in future. And yes, Social DRM is my new buzzword of the month!

How Can You Measure Real Value?

April 2, 2012 Leave a comment

It’s been a while since my last post, but then nothing much has changed, perhaps because, in real terms, a few weeks is really not that long, even in the fast-paced world of digital technology and innovation. However, it could just be proof of that old saying: “the more things change, the more they remain the same”, right?

Although, on the surface, it might not appear that much has changed, there are evident signs of continuous progress in several areas, including: technology and innovation; user experience and social networking / media / business; mobility and data of the large variety (aka big data). Many other experts and analysts, across various media and other channels, do a great job of observing / commenting on these topics and trends that I won’t bother trying to rehash them here.

In any case, the point I really wish to explore is that such developments, trends and indicators seem to point towards a new value exchange paradigm and/or system, sometime in the not too distant future. This notion is clearly described by Tim O’Reilly, at the last Strata Conference, where he talked about a fundamental need to find better ways for “measuring the economic impact of the sharing economy”. Among other things, he asks the key question, in my opinion, of how to measure the real value of sharing, particularly where traditional economic value yardsticks, (e.g. typical financial metrics), are no longer adequate for the task. He also described the often unmeasured benefits to be derived from the sharing economy (e.g. enriching an ecosystem of which you are part), versus the sometimes destructive impact of a profit-led, financially measured system (e.g. the contribution of global financial institutions to the current economic shambles). It would appear in this new paradigm that the way forward would involve “creating more value than you capture”, which, somewhat counter-intuitively, actually works to your advantage.

Perhaps this paradigm shift will be most realisable, (at least for the content industry), via a strategy of diversification and multi-publishing, which together increases the likelihood of better traction / success for content, via multiple touch-points, partnerships and hooks to end consumers. A couple of examples, which describe real life scenarios in e-book publishing and music licensing, are outlined below as follows:

  1. E-Book Publishing: A recent post on CopyrightandTechnology.com discusses Harry Potter’s DRM Free e-Book offering, which runs somewhat counter to conventional wisdom for publishing such valuable properties in fully DRM’ed electronic formats, for fear of piracy. However this works for Harry Potter on many levels, especially considering how this would complement and create further opportunities for their existing and future merchandising initiatives.
  2. Music Licensing: An article in the Berklee Music Business Journal examined the pros and cons of Coca-Cola’s equity stake in a music licensing startup. On the one hand, a major global consumer brand partners with a music outfit to source original musical content for its marketing campaigns; on the other hand the artistes, (often independent, unsigned and eager to be heard), get an opportunity to gain access to Coca-Cola’s global marketing might – which beats anything a record label can provide these days. Verdict: Win / Win!
  3. Streaming Movies: The key players in on-demand video streaming services, e.g.: Netflix, Hulu, Amazon (i.e. Prime and LoveFilm), and latterly Sky, all offer different value propositions to the consumer, but in my opinion, the winner/s will likely emerge from those that are willing to leverage multiple customer propositions / channels / formats (e.g. books, music, DVD and perhaps devices).

In conclusion, it is becoming increasingly harder to ignore such trends / evidence / indicators that suggest a move towards multiple consumer propositions (including pricing), multi touch points (channels / interactions) and multi-formats is rapidly gaining ground. This makes it even more imperative to find a better yardstick for measuring the real value of content, products and services for both suppliers and consumers. It seems to me that we’re likely heading for a post monetary value exchange and recognition system, and hopefully one that is more in keeping with the post-global realities of a digitally connected planet. I remain optimistic, and fully convinced that money is not, and perhaps has never really been, the best yardstick for measuring true value.