Rights locker architecture – the next step?


Rights locker architecture – the next step?
Roy Melzer, Ehrlich & Fenster, Sep 2004

Potential and risks of a new approach to digital content delivery

The growth of bandwidth leads to the integration of new content distribution technologies and models. One example is the possible integration of right locker architectures. The article addresses this technology from a legal point of view and analyzes the possible advantages and impediments that might result from the integration of this model.

Keywords: Right locker architectures, bandwidth, privacy, digital contracts

The digital content delivery is facing tremendous changes since the advent of the Internet. Those changes are primarily led by the constant expansion of the net bandwidth. Broader bandwidth enables various new web-based applications with different methods to disperse digital content efficiently. Those new possibilities alter the content industry and change the way people use and enjoy consumer electronic products, media, and entertainment. One indication of change in the consumers’ consumptive behaviour is the increasing demand to access digital content from portable devices like laptop, PDA and mobile phone, a tangible manner in the shade of the third generation of wireless services.

Enabling the user to access digital content either from his home stationary or from his mobile devices raises some challenges regarding the traditional DRM model. In the current technology, users’ digital rights are annexed to the protected content that is fixated in a particular device and can be accessed either directly, or from any other device that stores another private copy of the content. However, the user cannot access the purchased content from any other device, though he already acquired the right to use the content. Rights locker architecture technology presents a model that circumvents this content fixation problem.

The “Rights Locker” model
In this model, the content resides only on the rightholder’s data server memory. The user practically purchases only the right to access the content and not a physical copy of it. The user rights are stored on a server that was configured to hold authorization information. At the moment of purchase, the authorization server updates the user rights and stores them in accordance with the transaction contract.

Whenever the user desires to access the content, an adjusted application at the user device sends a request to the authorization server. After the server verified the request, the content is streamed to the user from the data server. The same procedure takes place irrespective of the used device, enabling the identified user to access content.

This is not a theoretical model. For example, Digital World Services (DWS 2004), a provider of software for secure delivery of digital content, implemented “rights locker” technology in its ADo2RA system, a content independent digital distribution infrastructure, that is designed to enable content providers and retailers to package, protect, and deliver digital content across multiple devices.

Customer advantages of “Rights Lockers”
Apart from the accessibility, rights locker architecture provides several additional advantages for the customers. The acquired data is backed-up safely, proofed from hardware failures or viruses hazards. Additionally, the user does not have to allocate new memory for the content, and therefore the hardware costs reduce.

Content supplier’s can now offer new business models, based on access control: Different contracts regarding the same data can suit different customers better then the current prevailing download model by offering variant prices, based on time periods or number of access permissions. The right to access the content can be sold not only to individuals but also to groups of people, reducing the price per capita (i.e. access is bought for a group of employees).

Drawbacks and uncertainties
The adoption of the new technology still has to face several impediments. From the technological point of view, the current bandwidth is not sufficient to enable real time streaming in a quality that will satisfy the average customer. It seems that the “rights locker” model will only proliferate when bandwidth will allow streaming of content at the same quality of service known in today’s apparatus (i.e. supplying real time streaming of songs and movies at the same quality as playing them from the memory of the used devise). However, reaching this quality threshold is just a matter of time. According to Edholm’s Law (Cherry 2004), in about five years third-generation wireless will routinely deliver 1 Mb/s, allowing audio streaming directly to mobile phones. Wi-Fi technologies will deliver 10 Mb/s wireless access for PDA and laptops, allowing video and audio streaming simultaneously.

From the legal point of view, the current European copyright legal frame is phrased in terms of usage, not access. An authorization is needed from the right holder to carry through actions like reproduction, communication to the public and making available to the public. The copyright directive defines the lawful use of the content and the usage exemptions in terms of “private copy” or “fixation of the content”. However, full integration of the rights locker architectures means that no physical copy of the content would be stored on the consumer devices. The user will “access” the content subjected to contract stipulations rather then “use” as in the sense of lawful use definitions and exemptions.

Even though, one can argue that the new technology is just a new way to handle DRM by mobilizing the digital rights rather than confining them to certain data files, with other words: a way to adjust to the new broad wireless bandwidth surrounding. However, if rights locker architectures will be adhered, a re-thinking of existing terms and definitions in copyright law is required: Sharing files with friends is not “space shifting” anymore but sharing access to the same content, Peer-to-Peer phenomena might transpose into password sharing and “private copying” will be subject to the contract terms.

Moreover, the technology facilitates copyright enforcement. Firstly, this is because the supplier can encrypt the transmitted signals, and thereby impede the fixation of the content. The supplier can digitally tag each transmission of the content, enabling easy tracing of the origin of the fixated copy. Thirdly, the content supplier can easily monitor the use of content, regarding the frequency of use and the IP address of the user devices to enforce the purchase contract.

Open questions
The integration of “right locker” technology might have substantial implications on the current legal frame and therefore should be examined by copyright legislators. In regard to the access agreements, the contract frame should raise questions regarding access control: can a database owner criminalize a user who stores “private copies” on his hard-drive when the contract terms prohibit this? Can the supplier control the access to the content eternally or is he obligated to enable free access to content after the expiration of the content copyright? And even if the release of the content to the public domain is obliged, what are the incentives for suppliers to enable access for content that is in the public domain. From the customers’ point of view, basic rights should be secured. User’s privacy might be endangered because of the ability of content owners to monitor the central repository server and to document user actions. Dilemmas for possible legislation can be what are the limits of access data compilations? Who should hold the ability to access this information? And what uses of the data is the supplier entitled to? It seems that this problem is inherited in the technology and will require a continuous monitoring mechanism to guard the users’ human rights.

Bottom line
It is still early to estimate in the light of the current bandwidth potential if rights locker architectures will succeed to enter the content delivery market. The integration of the technology holds great advantages for customers especially by enabling various access possibilities from different devices. However, the impediments and dangers to customers’ privacy should be kept in mind.


Cherry, Steven: Edholm’s Law of Bandwidth. Telecommunications data rates are as predictable as Moore’s Law . IEEE Spectrum Online (15/07/2004), http://www.spectrum.ieee.org/WEBONLY/resource/jul04/f1
DWS (2004): The ADORA DRM Content Delivery Platform of Digital World Services is described at http://www.dwsco.com/ps_adora.html; the news section http://www.dwsco.com/news_events.html announces implementations of ADORA. Customers currently listed are Vodafone D2, AOL Germany, O2, MediaMarkt? and T-Online International.

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