Is it possible to design non-defective DRM?

Mike Linksvayer, February 28th, 2008

DRM (Digital Rights Management, pejoratively known as Digital Restrictions Management) is said to be defective by design — making digital devices and content more annoying, less secure, less compatible, and generally less useful, and especially where protected by recent legislation, in conflict with free speech. If this dysfunction is not included by design, it is at least a direct side effect of a largely futile attempt to make computers worse at copying.

In light of these problems, Creative Commons licenses stipulate the following:

When You Distribute or Publicly Perform the Work, You may not impose any effective technological measures on the Work that restrict the ability of a recipient of the Work from You to exercise the rights granted to that recipient under the terms of the License.

This is not an outright prohibition of DRM on works distributed under terms of any CC license, but it does rule out existing DRM schemes that would clearly restrict the ability to exercise the rights granted in any CC license.

However, use of Digital Rights Expression, also variously known as Digital Rights Description and Rights Management Information, has always been a core part of Creative Commons’ strategy. The point of DRE and other information describing creative works is to describe works, not to facilitate restrictions imposed by your own computer. Computers should help users find and manage content, not help content owners manage and expose users.

We’ve only begun to exploit the ability of machine-readable code describing works and licenses to make media more valuable rather than less. Look for a paper on what we’re now calling ccREL — CC Rights Expression Language — coming soon.

ccREL has nothing to do with DRM, but this hasn’t stopped many people with DRM implementations or schemes from approaching us about making CC licenses work with their DRM. Nearly all of these conversations have been very brief as they were clearly futile.

The only exception to that certain futility rule has been Sun’s Project DReaM team. While it is far from clear that they have succeeded, theirs is perhaps the first honest attempt (at least outside academia) to specify a DRM system that supports CC licensed content and fair use — which we consider a requirement for supporting CC licenses.

The project has produced two white papers outlining potential support for CC licensed work and fair use, which are now open for comments: DReaM-MMI Profile for Creative Commons Licenses (pdf) and Support for Fair Use with Project DReaM (pdf). A forum has been set up to collect comments.

An introductory post from Susan Landau sets forth the challenge:

This is just to say that we welcome comments on the DReaM-MMI fair use document and the DReaM-MMI specification for implementing Creative Commons licenses. We’re not unaware of the inherent contradiction of a DRM’s support for fair use and Creative Commons licenses. What we are seeking to do in DReaM is develop an open-source DRM system, and include in it the things that ought to be part of any DRM system: support for fair use — and Creative Commons licenses.

We are very happy that Project DReaM has taken this step to encourage open discussion, which is certain to generate intense criticism, as anyone familiar with the DRM debates will immediately recognize. However, open criticism by many legal and computer security experts is the only way to properly evaluate a DRM system that aspires to support public licenses and fair use.

There is some existing literature on DRM and fair use. One starting point is a 2003 special issue of the Communications of the ACM on the theme “Digital Rights Management and Fair Use by Design.” Unfortunately these papers are not open access, but abstracts and exceprts are available at Cover Pages. Another is the DRM page of the Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic, which features several downloadable papers on DRM and fair use. In brief, there are two extremely difficult problems to overcome for a DRM system to support fair use: determining what constitutes fair use or trusting users and privacy.

Even if Project DReaM has successfully specified support for CC licensed works and fair use with DRM, there would probably be other hurdles to deploying truly non-defective DRM. The good news is that in the last year many more people have realized that DRM is not good for business or consumers, particularly in the music industry. However, attempts to make DRM work will probably be with us for some time. If it can be shown that it is possible to design a DRM system that supports fair use, consumers and advocates can demand that all DRM systems meet that standard. If not (and admittedly, we suspect this is the case), all the more reason to hasten the abandonment of DRM and the hindrance it poses to innovation, and to embrace technologies that make content more useful and empower users.

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1st CC Korea International Conference

Michelle Thorne, February 28th, 2008

“Open Culture in CC” is the theme of the first CC Korea International Conference, a day-long event to be held on Friday, March 14th at the National Museum of Korea (map).


The CC Korea team, lead by Chief Project Lead Jongsoo Yoon, have organized the conference not only to celebrate the 3rd birthday of CC Korea and its localized CC licenses, but as a platform to promote Open Culture in Korea, both qualitatively and quantitatively, by discussing case studies and coordinating future projects.

The program is divided into four tracks, covering topics such as open access and peer review, case studies in public sector content usage, Government Information Licensing Framework (GILF) in Australia, and media tools for CC in businesses.

Speakers at the conference include Creative Commons’ own Lawrence Lessig and Jon Phillips, John Wilbanks from Science Commons, Project Lead Brian Fitzgerald from CC Australia, and many representatives from Korean institutions including SuMyoung Lee (Ministry of Culture and Tourism), SeungHoon Chun (Samsung), iSuk Woo (Korea National University), KyoungHee Jung (Hansung University), JungWook Seo (Korea National University), SungWook Moon (KDI School of Public Policy and Management), JongMin Ham (NHN), and ChangShin Park (Newsbank).




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CC and Net Neutrality

Jane Park, February 26th, 2008 tracks the changing climate of education–more specifically, the movement towards the growing availability of Open Educational Resources on the web. In a recent post entitled, The Digital Commons — Left Unregulated, Are We Destined for Tragedy? , they explore the potential of the open digital commons, concluding that open access is the key to avoiding, not creating, tragedy.

They also recognize ccLearn as a part of this movement. ccLearn’s Executive Director, Ahrash Bissell, recently spoke with about ccLearn’s and, in general, Creative Commons’ relationship to net neutrality. Check out the interview here.

Both articles are licensed CC BY.

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Download Sharing Creative Works

Rebecca Rojer, February 26th, 2008

A PDF of Sharing Creative Works, the latest CC comic book, is now available for download. This new format is easier to read and share than the wiki version we published a couple months ago, and is ready to print. Sharing Creative Works is a colorful, easy-to-understand introduction to some of the abstract concepts behind Creative Commons.

Sharing Creative Works p. 12

In keeping with its theme, Sharing Creative Works is in the public domain. To encourage remixes and translations, all of the original SVG files, the text of the script, high quality PNG files, and the Scribus document used to generate the PDF are also available. Changes to the official version can still be made on its wiki page; thanks to everyone who already contributed edits and feedback!

Created by Alex Roberts, Rebecca Rojer, and Jon Phillips, Sharing Creative Works features a new visual style from our previous comics. We hope you find it a helpful resource for explaining the basics of copyright and CC licensing to kids and adults alike. A customized version will also serve as documentation for the OLPC Licensing Activity, keep an eye out for more info in the near future.

Please download, share, and remix Sharing Creative Works!

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CC Talks With: vosotros

Cameron Parkins, February 26th, 2008

vosotros is an LA-based record label that, over the past year, has been exploring unique and new ways of promoting music in the digital age. Ranging from their regularly updated podcast to their monthly residency in downtown Los Angeles, vosotros has acted as somewhat of a musical petri dish, experimenting with a variety of different ideas in getting the music they love to people who want it. We recently caught up with John Gillilan, Vosotros’ co-founder, and asked him a few questions in anticipation of their 1-year anniversary this Thursday:

What’s vosotros all about? What’s its history? How did it come about? Who’s involved?

vosotros is a new music initiative and label founded by Chicago natives John Gillilan and Gabe Noel. Our latest project, The Lazy Susan, will be released this February. We first met in Professora White’s 7th grade Spanish class, which is where we got our name. Vosotros is a Spanish verb conjugation roughly meaning “you-all.” But since it is only used in Spain, it was always ignored. Vosotros is music for you-all.

The Lazy Susan was born in February 2007, when we assembled a band to record one song and launch our year-long residency in downtown Los Angeles. Each month during the next year, we assembled a new band to record another song and play another month of the residency. Twelve months later, vosotros presents: the lazy susan – an album featuring thirty-two musicians on twelve songs written by bassist Gabe Noel.

The Lazy Susan introduces music by “Noelsson Schmoelsson”, “Someone’s Piano”, “First Good Feeling”, “PB&J…and g”, “masunday”, “Saltar”, “My Moon Boots”, “The Carrot and Stick”, “Touhy”, “ump-off Pause Tape”, “How Long It Takes To Know”, and “Our Song”.

February 28 marks the one-year anniversary of our residency at LAND (details here) – and the release of our third album as a label. You can listen to the lazy susan at and iMeem. Also, be sure to check out this promo video crafted by our friend Dave McCary using only public domain footage.
Read More…

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ACLU Embraces CC Licensing

Cameron Parkins, February 26th, 2008

The ACLU has begun its first foray into CC licensing, releasing all the content from their new website,, under a CC BY-NC-ND license. By releasing this information under a CC license (and with plans to utilize CC licenses more in the future), the ACLU is actively committing itself to the notion of “conversation,” allowing for the legal and encouraged sharing of information.

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“Steal This Film” at Other Cinema, SF

Cameron Parkins, February 25th, 2008

Those is the SF-Bay area take note – this Saturday, March 1, Other Cinema will be screening Steal This Film II (discussed earlier here) with an introductory talk by Rick Prelinger. If that wasn’t enough, the night looks to be filled with a variety of copyright-related goodness (see description below). From Other Cinema:

OC inaugurates its 24th year with a festive celebration of the Open-Source spirit! Headlining is the West Coast premiere of Jamie King’s half-hr. Steal This Film (2), a spot-on primer on strategies of access and appropriation in today’s Info Age. Initiating the evening is local hero Rick Prelinger, in person, with a provocative performative lecture on motion picture archives. ALSO: The “Pranks” section of Kembrew McLeod’s Freedom of Expression (a phrase that he copywrited, by the way), narrated by Naomi Klein, plus a heavy mix of media interventions, capped by David Cox’ pop-cult mash-up—get this—in 3-D! And in keeping with the sharewareethic, bring in your unwanted books for potlatch at 8pm with DJ Onanist and FREE-flowin’ bubbly!

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Illustrated Blogging with Flickr and CC

Nathan Yergler, February 25th, 2008

It’s no secret that Flickr has a great archive of Creative Commons-licensed photos — over 50 million as I write this. Last week I ran across a plugin for WordPress that makes finding and using these images even easier.

Photo Dropper allows you to search for images, optionally filtering for whether or not photos allow commercial use, and insert them into your blog post along with the appropriate photo credit. Their site has screenshots and installation instructions.

Great job, guys!

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Wireless Networking in the Developing World

Mike Linksvayer, February 25th, 2008

Wireless Networking in the Developing World is a free book about designing, implementing, and maintaining low-cost wireless networks. The second edition has just been released under a CC Attribution-ShareAlike license with versions in English, Spanish, French, Italian, Arabic, and soon Portuguese.

For a bit on why a book on wireless networking in the developing world may be particularly interesting, see last November’s post on Building a Rural Wireless Mesh Network, which very conveniently also happens to be available under an Attribution-ShareAlike license.

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Science Commons News: A commons-sense approach to winning the drug discovery lottery

Kaitlin Thaney, February 24th, 2008

From the Science Commons blog …  

In a new piece [free reg. req.] this week from GenomeWeb Daily News, Aled Edwards — director and CEO of the Structural Genomics Consortium — describes the drug discovery process as a “lottery,” and argues that increasing the chances for discovery will require that people in “academia, industry, and funding bodies collaborate and keep new structural data accessible to all researchers who might be interested in using it.”

The sentiment echoes those of Science Commons’ own John Wilbanks, who earlier this year wrote a post on the Nature Network comparing drug discovery to a game of roulette. It’s a game, says Wilbanks, that people win by “betting on every square, then patenting the one that wins and extracting high rents from it.” The biggest problem in this scenario, he argues, isn’t the existence of patents, but the sheer complexity of the human body, and how much we still have to learn about it:

Human bodies make microprocessors look like children’s toys in terms of complexity. …Complexity is the problem both in terms of our understanding of bodies and drugs and in terms of reworking the models around discovery. This system regularly and utterly defeats the best efforts of many entrepreneurs and policy reformers to change things for the better. 

So what’s the solution? According to Wilbanks, it’s a “commons approach,” which entails precisely the kind of collaboration that Edwards advocates […]

More after the jump …  

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