Campus Technology magazine has an article by Terry Calhoun of the Society for College and University Planning (SCUP, www.scup.org) that addresses challenges facing universities in digitizing some of their print holdings and putting the digital versions online. The context is the December 14, 2004 Google announcement regarding cooperation with universities and libraries to make portions of their collections available online. In case you missed the announcement, salient excerpts are at the end of this piece.
With universities providing leadership on putting works online, the question raised in the Calhoun article is this:
We’ll all have to keep in mind that the DRM we want is not the “management of digital rights,” but rather the “digital management of rights.” We’ll have to be careful not to lose sight of the human perspective and not to burden the digitized content of printed media with technological gunk that breaks down and becomes useless to users, or that might make the digital versions unreadable by slightly more advanced technologies. [emphasis added]
If I understand the distinction Calhoun is making, it's between actively managing rights relating to digital objects, content, files, etc. as opposed to using technology to manage rights whether they pertain to digital content or not. Examples of the first are DRM technologies used by Apple, Microsoft, Real, and other companies covered on this blog. Examples of the second include the kind of rights and permissions managed by Copyright Clearance Center regarding reprints, for example. CCC makes active use of computing resources to manage these rights.
DRM entails two parts: the association of rights with digital content and the use of technologies to enforce those rights. It's hard to imaging the former without the latter. The honor system cannot be relied on. And Calhoun is right to point out that rights apply to content not (yet) in digital form.
Calhoun is dead on regarding technological obsolescence. What if I have an encrypted file whose source was one of the DRM-based services around just a few years ago at the turn of this century. The odds are great that I can no longer access content the I own.
A facile response is, tough; technology marches on; can't hold back progress. However, as the use of DRM technologies becomes more pervasive, legacy DRM technologies will become a problem, just like legacy applications and media format--remember 7 track tapes, 800 bpi tapes--in the Enterprise space. It's not at all clear to this observer that DRM vendors are yet sufficiently concerned about DRM obsolescence and the potential for orphaned protected content that cannot be accessed.
Here are excertps from the Google release:
Google Checks Out Library Books
The Libraries of Harvard, Stanford, the University of Michigan, the University of Oxford, and The New York Public Library Join with Google to Digitally Scan Library Books and Make Them Searchable Online
MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. - December 14, 2004 - As part of its effort to make offline information searchable online, Google Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOG) today announced that it is working with the libraries of Harvard, Stanford, the University of Michigan, and the University of Oxford as well as The New York Public Library to digitally scan books from their collections so that users worldwide can search them in Google.
"Even before we started Google, we dreamed of making the incredible breadth of information that librarians so lovingly organize searchable online," said Larry Page, Google co-founder and president of Products. "Today we're pleased to announce this program to digitize the collections of these amazing libraries so that every Google user can search them instantly.
"Our work with libraries further enhances the existing Google Print program, which enables users to find matches within the full text of books, while publishers and authors monetize that information," Page added. "Google's mission is to organize the world's information, and we're excited to be working with libraries to help make this mission a reality."
Today's announcement is an expansion of the Google Print™ program, which assists publishers in making books and other offline information searchable online. Google is now working with libraries to digitally scan books from their collections, and over time will integrate this content into the Google index, to make it searchable for users worldwide.