Lightweight Copies

Fraunhofer, the company who brought us MP3 all those many years ago, is finally getting around to providing a digital rights management solution (DRM) for MP3 content. In my opinion, they may be delivering the DRM solution with the least inconvenience to users, while also holding users more accountable for their actions than either Windows Media DRM or the Fairplay DRM used by Apple's iTunes music store.

What's so radically different about the Fraunhofer system? It actually makes fair use convenient for the user, by allowing users to copy MP3 content to any device of their choosing as many times as they'd like.

How does making multiple copies protect the content creator? The right to transfer content to any device of your choosing comes with a small price. To make copies, you are required to register for an encrypted certificate, which identifies you as the creator of the copy.

How is this a more accountable system than WMDRM or Fairplay? Because the MP3 files are tagged with personally identifying information, there's identifying proof of who created the copy. Under the other solutions, copy prevention is used as a mechanism of protection, but if a copy is successfully made, proving who did it is much harder.

If all you are doing is exercising fair use rights and making copies for personal use on your own devices, like the car stereo, portable media player, home theater system, PC, laptop, Pocket PC, or whatever new device comes down the pipe this year; no one will have a reason to know you are even making copies.

On the other hand, if you make a copy and subsequently make it available on the file-sharing system of your choosing, the certificate identifies you as the distributor of the file should anyone coming looking. This is the accountability missing from electronically delivered content.

Isn't including personally identifying information in the files, encrypted or not, a potential violation of my privacy? Yes, but who is going to access the personally identifying information if you are only making copies for personal use?

In contrast to this style of DRM, Windows Media DRM and Apple's Fairplay implementation both work by limiting what you can do with a particular piece of content. Apple's implementation of Fairplay limits the number of devices you can install an iTunes track on. Windows Media DRM offers a wider range of limitations, including limiting the software the content will play in, limiting the number of allowable devices, completely preventing copying of the files, and a long list of other features. In both cases the protection schemes are great for the content creator and a huge pain for consumers. These current solutions are like installing a governor on your car; you're obviously going to speed, so the car company needs to make sure you don't.

By allowing me to decide what I do with content I purchase, the Fraunhofer Lightweight DRM solution assumes I just want more convenient access to my files. Restriction takes place if/when I distribute the files and subsequently get slapped with a lawsuit because the owner of the content can prove I'm the one who used their content illegally. To continue with my car analogy, a system like LWDRM lets me choose to speed or not and only punishes me with a ticket when I do.

Is LWDRM a perfect solution? Probably not. But from early indications it makes using electronic content a friendly experience not bogged down by the assumption that because some people will break the law everyone should be inconvenienced.

Would you share files that contained personally identifying information? What do you think of DRM? Join the conversation.