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CNRI - Position Paper for the W3C Workshop on Digital Rights Management

(January 2001)
Larry Lannom
Corporation for National Research Initiatives (CNRI)

CNRI's interest in and potential contributions to this activity stem from our work on digital object infrastructure, which we see as part of the ongoing development of an information centric view of the Internet[1]. Specific technologies which have come out of this work include the Handle System[2] and the CNRI Repository work[3], which address, respectively, the identification, and the storage and dissemination of digital objects. Implicit in this work is the principle that rights must be inherent within the objects.

In addition to this general infrastructural work, CNRI is involved in a variety of efforts that are concerned with digital rights management. One of these is the CORDS (Copyright Office Electronic Registration, Recordation and Deposit System) project[4] at the U.S. Copyright Office and associated copyright-related efforts including the creation of an Ad Hoc Industry Advisory Group for Digital Copyright Submissions and work with the National Music Publishers Association on copyright registration. A second highly related effort is our work with the International DOI Foundation, which has as its focus the management of intellectual content on the net[5].

As outlined in the Call For Participation, DRM brings along with it a whole raft of associated legal, social, and economic issues as well as a number of technical topics, including rights authentication and access control, all of which make it a formidable topic for a two day workshop. We believe that a discussion on DRM languages, as described in the CFP, is the appropriate focus and, more specifically, we would like to see the workshop address the basic question of whether or not it is useful for the W3C to recommend a standard in this area. While it is clearly useful for various user communities to agree on standard rights expressions for specific business processes and specific object types and while it is clearly useful to have underlying infrastructures and lower level languages and encoding methods for building these expression schemes, it is less clear that there is a useful level between these that should also be promulgated by the W3C. That is, do we yet or will we ever know enough about the management of rights in various digital environments to develop and/or recommend a standard language for expressing those rights across all environments? Could such a language be standardized and not constrain future options in the development of digital rights? How would such a language relate to various national legal systems? Should W3C attempt to define the uniform language for rights expression or should it restrict itself to lower level infrastructural languages and frameworks such as those represented by XML and RDF? We feel that answers to these questions must be among the results of the workshop.

[1] This point of view was summarized by Bob Kahn and Vint Cerf in "What Is The Internet (And What Makes It Work)", December 1999, [http://www.internetpolicy.org/briefing/12_99_story.html].

A developing trend that seems likely to continue in the future is an information centric view of the Internet that can live in parallel with the current communications centric view. Many of the concerns about intellectual property protection are difficult to deal with, not because of fundamental limits in the law, but rather by technological and perhaps management limitations in knowing how best to deal with these issues. A digital object infrastructure that makes information objects "first-class citizens" in the packetized "primordial soup" of the Internet is one step in that direction. In this scheme, the digital object is the conceptual elemental unit in the information view; it is interpretable (in principle) by all participating information systems. The digital object is thus an abstraction that may be implemented in various ways by different systems. It is a critical building block for interoperable and heterogeneous information systems. Each digital object has a unique and, if desired, persistent identifier that will allow it to be managed over time. This approach is highly relevant to the development of third-party value added information services in the Internet environment.

[2] http://www.handle.net/

[3] http://www.cnri.reston.va.us/digital_object_store.html

[4] http://cords.loc.gov/

[5] http://www.doi.org/