Re: Content Provider Problem?

Rob Raisch, The Internet Company (
Fri, 16 Sep 1994 23:09:13 +0200

David, Your separation of this problem into two issues isn't really
instructive nor necessary. First you ask if a publisher's product can be
protected in digital form and then you ask how one possible mode of attack
on the first problem might prove useful.

Better to ask if we can -- using technology -- protect intellectual
property in digital form and leave it at that, because the answer is very
simply that we cannot.

To better understand this problem, we need to look at how we protect
intellectual property in the real world.

(Please keep in mind throughout that I am talking exclusively about a
technological solution. This is an important point since I intend to show
that there can be no technological solution to this problem. Also, where
I use the term publisher, please also assume I refer to the author.)

If I write a book and have it published, I am protected against many forms
of use which do not compensate me for my labors.

The casual thief, the one who duplicates a magazine article and shares it
with others in the office, cannot be protected against, simply because the
costs to do so would far outweigh the benefits gained.

But the inveterate thief, the mass-scale thief, the thief who represents a
concentrated loss of value to the publisher must be protected against and
there really is only one technological protection available to us:

the physical characteristics of the medium in which the
author chooses to publish.

It is a non-trivial expense to produce and print a book with any real
exposure, more than a very few copies. The cost of printing 50,000 copies
of anything is out of reach to most but those few companies which publish
as a business.

Since a book has measurable dimensions and weight, and thus occupies
space, it must be physically transported from publisher to consumer in
some fashion. This is distribution and is another major cost in the
provision of books.

So, the costs involved here are reflections of the fact that a book is
made of paper, ink, glue, and binding materials, and that it takes up
space and must be transported. And it is these costs which indirectly
protect the publisher from most intellectual property theft.

But, none of this has anything to do with the information contained in the
book -- its intellectual content. This is why I believe that our
protections of intellectual property in the real world are all based on
characteristics of the medium and not on any characteristic of the
information itself.

On the global Internet, and on other forms of digital communications, the
costs of distributing information are extremely small in comparison to
the real world, and since the costs of duplication are so small to be
unmeasurable, we have a big problem.

When I explain this problem in my lectures, I use the statement: "Digital
Information has no Container" and because all of our protections of
information are based on its container, we are left with the fact that
there is no technological way to protect information.

Let's look as some examples:

A book is rendered into digital form and is distributed
to the consumer.

This is done today but offers no protection to
the publisher of the book whatsoever.

The same book is distributed in the same fashion but in an
encrypted form. The consumer is given the decrypting pass
phrase and then views the contents of the book.

This is also done today and offers minimal protection
but once the book is in a freely readable form it is

The same book is distributed in the same fashion and the
same encrypted format with special tools to decrypt, browse
and read the book.

This has been experimented with and might prove
moderately useful but only if the consumer is
restricted from using the book in any other form.
The moment the consumer can save a clear copy of
the book outside of the provided toolset, there
is no protection.

The same book is distributed on special media which can only
be unlocked by a special physical key, a 'dongle', which the
consumer must attach to the viewing computer.

If we only allow the book to be viewed using the
publisher's special toolset, we now have protection.
But in a sense, the dongle becomes the container of
the information, at least it becomes impossible
to gain access to the information without it.

Even with all of this, it still does not offer complete protection,
because we need to have the information in a readable/consumable form for
it to have any value to us and once it is, it is stealable.

Technology is a marvelously dynamic and slippery thing. A scant moment
after we design the unbreakable system, someone comes along with a method
to break it.


Ok, now that I have told you why I do not believe that intellectual property in digital form CAN be protected using technology, I will tell you what I believe to be the only solution to this problem.

In its purest sense and accepting my premise of a container for information, this does not actually protect anything. It only makes the abuse easy to track. Once the publisher is made aware of the abuse of their rights and can follow this abuse to its source, the actual protection takes place in a court of law.

But online, we can quickly and efficiently distribute hundreds of thousands of copies of a copyrighted work and the publisher might never be able to track the source of the abuse.

This is the problem. And the solution, at least in my mind, would appear that the publisher needs to take an active role in the online community, in its society, in the design of its tools, in every facet of this new media because if they do not, they will be put out of business by the free and open access to information that this technology represents.

The moment that some "kind" soul scans and places the newest Steven King hardcover online for the consumption of the community, all hell is going to break loose.

</rr> -- Rob Raisch, The Internet Company