The Digital Media Manifesto

L. Chiariglione    


The DMM Major Action



The Digital Media Manifesto identifies seven major areas for action. They are grouped according to their nature: policy and technical, and are:


Policy actions


Mapping of rights traditionally enjoyed by users to the Digital Media space


Phasing out analogue legacies applied to Digital Media


Deployment of broadband access


Improving development of and access to standards

Technical actions


Interoperable Digital Rights Management platforms


Interoperable end-user devices


End-to-end conformance assessment

P1 - Mapping rights traditionally enjoyed by users to the Digital Media space

Legislation concerning the rights acquired by end users along with content is the result of decades of interventions and legislative consistency is far from uniform across countries. In addition to this there is a set of other abilities, again widely varying from country to country, that end users have come enjoy, such as end-user exeptions to rights holders' rights. It convenient to call the ensemble of these possibilities as "rights traditionally enjoyed by end users", even though these are not, strictly speaking, all "rights". Examples of these "rights" are right to quote, right to make personal copy, right to choose playback device and right to privacy. On the other side there are actions triggered by the need to limit the effect of some new features that were enabled by new media technologies and that were considered too damaging to rights holders. The result is that there are non uniform and non consistent bodies of beliefs in vaue-chain players and end users underpinning the complex relationship between media and end users, that are sometimes substantiated by the law and sometimes just the result of common practices.

DM technologies allow a vast number of new possibilities, some of which had an equivalent in the analogue world. In general, however, it is not straightforward to see how basic user rights of the analogue age can be carried over to the digital media space.

So far the relationship between users, device manufacturers and the media business has been largely adversarial. On the one hand there are user associations working on "Bills of Rights" showing what functionality is desired and what levels of restrictions are acceptable to users of digital media systems, that are hard to implement in a DRM system, . On the other there are different attempts made by media businesses to independently develop solutions that reduce the scope of traditional rights, even when there could have been ways to preserve at least some of them.

There is a need for a neutral place where a dialectic collaboration between three communities - rights holders, product and service providers, and end users can take place to define how rights traditionally enjoyed by end users can be mapped to the Digital Media space..

P2 - Phasing out analogue legacies applied to Digital Media

Germany has been the first ciuntry to place a levy on equipment that could be used by citizens to make copies of copyright-protected material in the privacy of their own home for their own personal use. Since then levies have been instituted in many European countries and in some countries in other continents, such as Canada. Today levies are claimed on PCs, multifunctional devices, mobile phones with MP3 functions, some types of set top box with integrated recording capacity and scanners; on CD recordable, DVD recordable and various types of solid state memory. and even on the Internet.

The concerns about the DM levy are:

Other legacies of the analogue age is the network of legal country-based restrictions to the flow of media content. In Europe for the last 50 years there have been efforts at creating a single market for physical goods and some types of services but little if anything has changed for such immaterial goods as media content. Today a resident in France may not subscribe to a pay TV service from nearby countries, in spite of the fact that the signal arrives at his roof-top antenna.

Yet another legacy is the lack of uniformity of taxation across different countries. This was a tolerable situation for media distributed on physical carriers that were largely intended for a single uniform market, but is no longer acceptable already today when people can easily acquire content from countries with very different taxation regimes.

P3 - Deployment of broadband access

As with early content delivery technologies, e.g. low speed data, ISDN and mobile radio systems, the issues with the provision of ubiquitous broadband vary from country to country. In general the challenges are not just technology but also a combination of commercial, legal and political factors.

Digital broadcasting, is generally available and in some countries is already reaching a high proportion of the population thus providing significant opportunities for delivery of important classes of Digital Media to end users. It can be argued, however, that today’s digital broadcasting - terrestrial, satellite and cable TV - is essentially extending existing analogue broadcast to digital, although with significantly more channels, improved technical quality and enhanced services, such as multimedia teletext, and increased viewer involvement via simple live feedback mechanisms, access to multiple sources or views and local storage-supported time shifting. Essentially, point-to-multipoint systems can be regarded as content-specific.

The true potential of DM will be realised with the prevalence of content agnostic systems, a typical common factor with two-way systems. Attempts made by the telcos in the last decade to stimulate broadband provision via new DM service offerings, e.g. broadband video-phones or video/movies-on-demand, have generally failed. Today two-way broadband access to the home or small business features in the plans of all the world’s telecommunications network providers and is also stimulating many independent approaches that bypass telco local loop networks, e.g. using Wi-Fi. Realising those plans is a completely different matter. Today the technology may be less costly than 10 years ago but in many countries, economic issues are made more complex through state intervention, regulation, licensing and competition policy. Incumbent network owners also have to address completely new issues because of anti-competitive and market-opening initiatives, such as ‘local-loop unbundling’. Political needs also surface where governments see ubiquitous broadband access as an economic necessity for national competitiveness.

Left to itself broadband access is going to proceed along the current trends where home users take up existing offers, such as ADSL at a few 100 Kbit/s and Cable Modems. These constitute significant advances compared to the dial-up modems of a few years ago, but they are hardly adequate enablers of a legitimate Digital Media market.Indeed DM offerings are scarce today on the web and what exists is often of dubious legitimacy, there are few "consumer-grade" devices that one can connect to the Internet and the PC remains the main device to consume content, be it music, video clips or movies compressed from DVD. Realisation of scenarios such as diffuse distance learning, access to content repositories, personalised advertisement or where the number of content sources comparable to the number of content consumers appear remote.

Summarising, there is a need for actions to remove the obstacles impeding the creation of a virtuous circle for all: technology suppliers, content creators, content-oriented service providers, connectivity providers, and the end user.

P4 - Improving development of and access to standards

Digital Media is the most advanced form of communication between humans ever invented and can expect to continue to undergo a continuous evolution thanks to the high innovation rate of digital technologies. To be practically deployed, Digital Media require some sort of standardisation. Typically, the implementation of a standard requires access to IP owned by third parties. Standards bodies require that such IP be accessible at fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms. In general, however, the specific licensing terms are not described in the standard.

The MPEG-2 standard successfully improved the handling of the relationship between the definition of the technical specifications and their relative IPR. The success of that standard, designed so that it could be used in a range of radically different products, depended on the coordination of the IPR owned by many different parties. A "pool" of the IPR holders was formed in order to provide users of the technology with nondiscriminatory access to as much IP incorporated in the standards specification as possible in one single step. However, the MPEG-2 success was also due to the fact that the licensing terms were based on traditionally simple, well-understood models of deployment of the technology. For example, the IPR for MPEG-2 Video decoders are licensed in the same manner whether they apply to a DVD hardware decoder (CE industry) or software decoder (computer industry).

The last few years, however, have shown that the process of standardisation and the ensuing provision of licensing for relevant IPR face considerable challenges. New Digital Media deployment models barely fit old ones and in many cases seem to clash with models of products and services that have traditionally been deployed in the IT field. Standards designed to be used across different industries face the reality of radically business models applied by each of them It can even be argued that this is just the beginning, where more complex situations will stem from more complex standards such as metadata and DRM standards, especially when combined with other multimedia standards.

A related issue that constitutes a significant impediment to the practical utilisation of Digital Media in a context of a high innovation rate is the recognition made by technology developers of the relative disproportion between cost and potential benefit to filing patents. This has generated a dramatic increase in the total number of patent filings and is the major cause of the low level of "filtering" applied by patent offices, because they no longer have the resources, time or expertise to effectively filter through all of the filings and ensure good claims. This tends to exacerbate the phenomenon of low-innovation inventions getting the patent status.

T1 - Interoperable DRM platforms

The debate on whether meaningful business models exist that are not digital conversions of those employed in the analogue world has been raging for years. While it cannot be excluded that such new models may eventually emerge and even become mainstream, the process may take years and the dangerous Digital Media stalemate in which the media industry and society are struggling does not allow us to keep waiting for Digital Media salvation to come while the situation degenerates by the day. The only valid alternative that remains on the table is the use of content protection technologies or Digital Rights Management (DRM) technologies to remove the major disabling factor of DM business.

The value chain is typically made up of a number of independent business players, each with their own business models dictating how IT components and services should be used to achieve distribution and control of their IP. Therefore it is natural that each player wishes to retain the freedom of choosing the DRM solution that best fits his needs. The result will then be multiple DRM solutions implemented on different portions of different instances of the value chain.

This assembly of loosely interoperable solutions is the traditional way of managing content on the value chain. DRM, however, is not a technology that can be introduced arbitrarily at any point of the value chain, because its introduction at one point influences the rest of the value chain in a substantial way. Therefore, while it is conceivable to have multiple DRMs handled by different value chain players, the coexistence of different DRMs with a level of trust adequate for normal business relations is a major challenge that will prevent DRM from becoming the tool enabling meaningful businesses solutions in any predictable length of time

The only feasible solution in the short-to-medium term is the deployment of DRM solutions that are based on technologies designed to interoperate. This does not mean that there should be a single DRM specification holding across the value chain and that only the prescribed technologies should be used everywhere. There should be different solutions, offered by different vendors, that are capable of interoperating with one another, e.g. via negotiation protocols.

T2 - Interoperable end-user devices

A necessary condition for a successful interoperable DRM platform is the existence of interoperable end-user devices. These are technically a part of the DRM platform but it is convenient to treat them separately because devices include several other issues, such as the fact that they will possibly have to be operated by technically unsophisticated end users.

Traditionally end user devices have been both media and delivery specific. Different devices are needed to view a TV program coming via over-the-air broadcast or via a VHS cassette recorder, even if it is the same TV signal that the device has to deal with. On the other hand the same device might be used to watch or listen to programs from different sources, i.e. the receiving device is not content or service provider specific. Departures from this model are the CATV set top box, an "adaptor" to convert the TV signal picked up from the cable to a form that could be used to feed the TV set. and the analogue pay TV decoder with the function of descrambling the signal.

Today we see two models: one is based on devices that end users can buy in the shops, while the other is based on devices that are supplied by service providers. Examples of the former are CD and DVD with which any music or video content from any source can be played. Prices are brought down by broad competition, e.g. very few tens of $/€ for a low-end CD or DVD player. Huge businesses have been spawn around these openly available devices. Unlike mass-market devices of the first model, devices for the second remain high, e.g. a digital pay TV STB costs roughly one order of magnitude more than their analogue equivalent. As a result those businesses are in general still struggling. The situation is not likely to improve any time soon, though. End-ser devices for Digital Media have a much faster device obsolescence rate compared to analogue media and this can only increase as more features are added. Even a major Service Provider is finding it hard to plan centrally for end-user device updates because users have different replacement requirements.

Setting aside adventurous speculations, by now there is enough evidence that only a competitive market of end user devices from different manufacturers, capable of consuming protected content which end users can buy in the shops, can provide opportunities for sustainable Digital Media business that is respectful of rights holders and satisfactory to end users. Such an open end-user device market can kick off a phenomenon of a size comparable to the IBM PC's. The reasons why this has not happened yet for DM devices are manifold, one of them being the absence of interoperable DRM platforms. Even in the digital pay TV case, where the number of end-user devices is already quite high, this does not happen because the segmentation of the digital TV STB market has reduced the market for such devices to high-volume, low-return Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) markets tightly controlled by SPs.

T3 - End-to-end conformance assessment

A content value chain is a complex system where different players, bound by legal/business agreements and with the support of different technological solutions, operate so as to achieve the goals of the value chain. Use of DRM implies the redesign of B2B relationships at least in certain portions of the value chain that must take into account the fact that IT is the underlying enabling technology. To accept the change, value chain players must be provided with the means to verify that each player operates according to the agreed upon rules, e.g. by certifying that the different parties involved (manufacturers, software vendors, service providers, etc.) guarantee the level of quality and adherence to the rules that has been agreed. The traditional self-certification approach is no longer enough with the commercial interests around content. There must be "conformance assessment" rules that operate at three levels: legal (e.g. by checking that content offerings satisfy local laws or regulations), business (e.g. by checking adherence with business rules attached to content) and technical (e.g. by checking that a playback device has the required security).

There is a need to develop a set of recommended practices for legal, business and technical conformance across the value chain in the sense that the means to check conformance should be provided. It will be up to legal contracts and possibly legislation to make parts or all of these recommended practices legally enforceable.