Digital copyright protection – some success, but mostly failure

August 12, 2014 by Nicholas Sheppard
The advent of digital music caused a few headaches, but digital copyright issues go back further than that.Credit: ~lauren/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

There's been a bit of talk recently about getting internet service providers (ISPs) involved in the enforcement of copyright law. The federal Attorney-General and Minister for Communications recently released an Online Copyright Infringement Discussion Paper in the belief that:

even where an ISP does not have a direct power to prevent a person from doing a particular infringing act, there still may be reasonable steps that can be taken by the ISP to discourage or reduce online copyright infringement.

Exactly what might be "reasonable steps" and how they might be funded are among the subjects up for discussion. Critics fear that it means turning ISPs into police.

Before evaluating any new steps, it's worth recalling digital copyright measures that have been implemented before – to see what worked, and what didn't.

Copy protection

Software makers struggled with illegal copying of software long before the media industry came up against the internet. Beginning in the 1980s, software makers developed a variety of schemes seeking to prevent people from making copies of software without paying the original software maker.

By the 1990s, digital audio technology had progressed such that listeners were able to make high-quality copies of music. Like the software industry before it, the music industry turned to technology that sought to prevent CDs being used with copying devices.

Since CDs were not originally designed to prevent copying, most schemes violated the original CD specification in some way. This meant that copy-protected CDs could be unreliable and even damaging.

In the most infamous case, Sony's Extended Copy Protection system was found to install a "rootkit" – a hidden piece of software usually associated with viruses – on computers.

Digital watermarking

A digital watermark is a signal inserted into a media file that cannot be heard or seen by humans, but can be recovered by a computer.

As good as DRM sounds, there are restrictions.

Watermarks were supposed to prevent or deter in various ways, but the nearest they came to commercial implementation was through the Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI).

SDMI went on hiatus in 2001, citing a lack of agreement on the suitability of the available technologies. Watermarking technology probably just didn't work well enough: watermarks were either too easy to remove, or too audible to listeners.

Digital rights management

Digital rights management (DRM) schemes allow sellers of media files to associate those files with a licence, which sets out what the buyer can and can't do with their purchases. In principle, DRM schemes have several advantages over simply dictating to users that they shall not make copies:

  1. sellers can implement business models that aren't based on the old sell-one-copy model. It is possible to write licences that support subscription models, freemium models, viral models and others
  2. licences can permit certain legitimate uses of copying, such as copying a file from a media collection to a portable player
  3. media players could be built to support licensing from the ground up instead of trying to retrofit an existing technology.

Nonetheless, DRM technology enforced restrictions that buyers found arbitrary and inconvenient. Competing DRM technologies also meant that files bought from a service supporting one technology might not play on devices that supported another technology.

Later DRM schemes attempted to improve flexibility and interoperability using ideas such as the "authorised domain", but DRM had probably already worn out its welcome by the time these improvements became available.

Rights lockers

A rights locker is an online database in which a buyer can store a record of his or her right to use a media file.

The idea has been around since at least the late 1990s, but obviously online lockers could only become convenient once internet access was also convenient.

Over the past few years, the movie industry has been rolling out a rights locker scheme under the name Ultraviolet. Ultraviolet claims to have around 17 million users and counts around 80 movie studios and technology companies as members (but not Disney, which went with its own locker called Disney Movies Anywhere).

Involving intermediaries

All of the systems described above seem doomed to chronic unpopularity. After all, what music listener or film viewer is going to say "I need a system telling me what I can and cannot do"?

Enter the intermediaries. For governments and copyright owners, it's a lot easier to police copyright at the level of ISPs and content-sharing sites since (a) there are fewer of them and (b) they're much bigger targets.

The most obvious way in which intermediaries could help out copyright owners is to install content-filtering technology. YouTube uses a system called Content ID through which copyright owners can ask Google to check uploaded videos against a database of copyrighted works.

Some argue that content-filtering technology might ultimately be the least expensive way of enforcing . Installing content filters might incur a cost, but this cost is less than the cost of installing rights-management technology everywhere else, or of pursuing large numbers of individual infringers through the existing court system. (But I'm not aware of any empirical studies of these costs.)

Whatever the costs of filtering, critics object to the idea that intermediaries be made into copyright police. Copyright owners might respond: we tried policing individual users, and look how popular that was.

Explore further: ISPs, movie, music, TV groups in copyright deal

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3.7 / 5 (3) Aug 12, 2014
That stupid watermark made video very quiet.
So if I put another watermark on it, will the first remain intact.
How many watermarks can coexist?
Lex Talonis
2.3 / 5 (3) Aug 12, 2014
It's an interesting thing, that all free distribution of product, enhances sales, and the naziware just pisses everyone off and chokes the market.

And for all DRM nazi cunts - they - being the studios and productions and distribution networks, like Iprunes, etc., they gouge all the people in Australia 50% more for everything, than they charge in other markets, and then squeal "Hard done by" - as people tell them to fuck off and bypass them and their bullshit.

It's just American Nazification of the whole world.

My solution. Buy a piano, learn to play it and hold dances in the local hall.

2 / 5 (2) Aug 12, 2014
DRM = Digital Restrictions Management, the publishers' response to the discovery that their market(s) valuate the product as worth stealing only.
Buy a piano, learn to play it and hold dances in the local hall.
Well said. That's why I live in this isolated rural and backwards community where quality tasteful entertainment is with talented friends.

2 / 5 (2) Aug 12, 2014
Cannot get away from it by buying a piano either. The music that you play is copyrighted unless you compose it yourself on your own paper. Playing copyrighted music incurs performance fees if anyone hears it besides yourself. Just try to play the innocuous song: "Happy Birthday", which is over a hundred years old and EVERYBODY sings, in front of the wrong folks and see how fast you could be sued. The only way to destroy these affronts to our rights is to destroy the law that created those affronts. That takes politics and huge grass roots movements like the nazis and commies in the last century...and the abolitionists and temperance groups of the 1800' defeat the moneyed interests and their paid off lawyers.
3 / 5 (1) Aug 13, 2014
Remember digital audio tapes and their copyright tax? Probably not - DATs were never embraced by consumers for some peculiar reason. How about Windows Vista and the crazy things it would do to enforce end to end DRM? Oddly, another market failure.

Collateral damage from an industry too strongly focused on preventing uncontrolled use of its copyrighted material by any and all means.
Lex Talonis
2 / 5 (2) Aug 13, 2014
Have a look at this guy and what he has to say about removing the DRM nazi bullshit, and how it increased his book sales - and how that worked.


And Amanda Palmer - on the art of giving.

5 / 5 (1) Aug 13, 2014
So if I put another watermark on it, will the first remain intact.
How many watermarks can coexist?

Really depends on what methods you use. But multiple watermarks can usually coexist without too much of a problem.
The issue for watermarks is more in line with: what kind of transformations can you do with the data without destroying the (recoverability of the) watermark.

In then end it always boils down to: If you can play it you can copy it. And once someone has a non-traceable copy then he can copy THAT to his hearts content without anyone being able to do anything about it.
not rated yet Aug 13, 2014
Holding an ISP responsible for 'pirated' material passing through their networks is ridiculous. Forcing them to install filtering or any other hardware to monitor the actual content of this traffic will push up costs to customers and tend to reduce network performance. It ends up being their customers, including those not downloading illegally, that are hurt by this.

What is next? Charging those responsible for roads for stolen cars on driven on their road?

DRM has caused many problems in the past and hurt only those legally purchasing media which put off a lot of those that wanted to use the legal options. The pirates got around DRM easily, making pirated versions trouble free. It is a real pain when you have no internet connection and DRM prevents your purchased music, movies, books and games from being used.

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