2008 Year in Review: Rights Technology Standards

(This is the fourth and final article in our 2008 year-end review.  Parts one, two, and three are on DRM Watch.)

The pace of standards activities related to content rights continued to slow in 2008.  Two standards- or consortium-based DRM technologies, OMA DRM 2.0 and Marlin, showed modest progress, which we covered in Part 1 of our year-end review.  The Digital Media Project’s most important milestone during 2008 was the use of its open standard DRM technology in trials during the Beijing Olympics on user-generated video content.

As was the case in 2007, the more interesting momentum around rights standards occurred around standards for rights licensing information.  In our 2007 year-end review of standards, we noted the appearance of Creative Commons’s CC+ scheme for specifying commercial content licensing terms, as an add-on to Creative Commons’ existing set of noncommercial licensing term support.

Our prediction that CC+ would spur the creation of online services for
licensing content started to come true this year with the launch of
Ozmo, from CCC (Copyright Clearance Center), the US licensing agency for publishers’ content that participated in the design of CC+ with Creative Commons.  Ozmo is primarily intended to help solve the problem of making it as easy as possible for creators of user-generated content to get paid.  It does not impose constraints on, nor does it track, usages of content; it is merely an efficient commercial rights licensing mechanism.  It is similar to a service that iCopyright already offers for individual content creators but is based on the CC+ standard.  We expect more CC+-based services to appear in the coming year.

The other rights licensing standard that made progress in 2008 was PLUS (Picture Licensing Universal Standard) for digital images.  PLUS was designed with digital image licensing agencies (such as Corbis and Getty Images) in mind: It gives them ways to specify rights licensing terms with standard XML tags so that licensees — such as publishers and advertising agencies — can set up systems to automate image usage within the terms of licensing agreements.

PLUS has needed two things in order to cement its success in the market: adoption by large image licensees and a home in a recognized standards body such as OASIS or IDEAlliance.  The first — and more important — of these happened last year: three of the five major educational publishers, McGraw-Hill, Pearson, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, announced in November that they will adopt PLUS licensing terms in their image licensing contracts and ask image suppliers to embed PLUS metadata in digital images they send.  Educational publishers are major image licensees, so this development should boost PLUS’s acceptance.

The other major rights licensing standard at the moment is ACAP (Automated Content Access Protocol), which was developed by (mostly) news publishers to control how Internet search engines can display their content in search results.  Google — the primary target of ACAP — made
no substantive moves toward supporting the standard in 2008.  Google settled its longstanding litigation with the book publishing industry over Google Book Search in October; the proposed settlement involves the creation of an independent rights licensing agency somewhat akin to CCC, but the technology envisioned for the Book Rights Registry only faintly resembles ACAP (though it is a different application).

We believe that the most optimistic scenario around ACAP is that it will be dormant unless and until a new breed of search engines adopts it and gains enough traction in the market to be a serious threat to Google and the other leading search engines (Yahoo and MSN).  Otherwise, we don’t see any incentive for the Big Three to adopt ACAP, regardless of its practicality and elegance.

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