educational

DRM In 2005: Part 1

Josh Ewin
The proliferation of peer-to-peer file-sharing networks and the increased availability of home broadband Internet connections has brought the sharing of digital content, both audio and video, into the mainstream.

In fact, the traffic generated by P2P networks during evening hours accounts for nearly double the traffic produced by normal HTTP requests.

Until recently, the mechanisms to deliver digital content were largely based on the "honor system." Users subscribed to a provider's site, agreed to membership or license conditions — which usually required that the user not redistribute the content or download any or all files on the site.

However, there are very few controls that can effectively enforce this type of licensing agreement. In many cases, the user can freely distribute the downloaded content on a P2P network or simply store the file on their computer in a folder shared with a P2P network.

This lack of control over digital media has hampered revenue generation for content providers. In much the same way that the music industry has been affected by the loss of revenue from the virtually unlimited distribution potential of music files, content providers of all kinds, including adult video, have been hit hard by the widespread use of P2P file-sharing networks. This actual impact varies by study, but somewhere between $3.5 billion and $7 billion dollars is usually reported as lost annually due to the piracy of digital music and video content.

Successful strategies to counter this form of infringement are few and far between, but it is an issue on the minds of many content distributors. Some services, for example, flood P2P networks with bogus files in order to frustrate users into purchasing the content. Fortunately, this has proven mostly ineffective, as P2P users have adapted quickly by sharing knowledge of bogus files or avoiding files that appear several times in P2P searches.

Infringement of this scale has forced content providers into a few different business models. Some adult content providers offer services in a subscription format, charging users a monthly fee to access a password-protected site, while others provide streaming media services. More complex delivery models, such as rental and try-before-you-buy, require the installation of software controls to be enforced.

DRM Provides Solution
Digital rights management, or DRM, solves many of these issues. The new technology provides a mechanism to "lock" content in such a way as to control the type and amount of use. By embedding information into the content files themselves, providers can distribute "smart" files, which will contain their own rules for playback and distribution. These technologies are quickly making their way into the marketplace and are already being integrated by large content providers such as Napster, Time-Warner and numerous adult businesses.

For a DRM solution to be commercially viable, it must posses several qualities in order to be accepted by consumers. After all, it is difficult to persuade an entire community of users that have grown accustomed to getting free content to suddenly begin paying for it. Effective use of DRM technology doesn't seem to be scaring away possible consumers on P2P networks, though.

"Users are not shying away from DRM content on P2P networks," said Jason Tucker of PlayaDRM, a provider of DRM solutions. "They see it as a new tool being used by producers and the reality is that this is something they will have to accept. The window between DRM and non-DRM content is closing."

In addition to protecting content from unauthorized distribution, a DRM solution must be reliable, flexible and transparent to the user. Any solution that requires significant end-user interaction will be rejected as too time-consuming or complicated.

Finally, a secondary benefit of DRM technologies for adult content providers is that they will achieve compliance with legislation that prohibits content from being viewed by minors. Without a DRM solution, a content provider distributes video on a website to subscribed users who have only proven their age through use of a credit card. Transmission of that content to minors by subscribers cannot be regulated, though, unless the providers incorporate some form of DRM, something that Christopher Levy of BuyDRM.com believes can be a very useful tool.

"DRM is yet one more technology that can prevent unauthorized minors from accessing pornographic content," Levy said. "Using downloaded DRM protected content that expires offline after a predefined period will cut down on a large portion of these illegal re-views. In another approach, DRM can be used to revoke content that is deemed to be illegal or ordered by a court to cease and desist. That's a powerful step toward ending unauthorized use and distribution of content."

Stay tuned for Part 2, where we'll explore how DRM works, its use as a plug-in, and its future...

Josh Ewin is managing director of Florida-based web hosting provider H2oh Hosting. Ewin can be reached via email at josh@h2ohhosting.com.

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