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Digital rights management : technological, economic, and legal and political aspects
Becker E. (ed), Buhse W. (ed), Günnewig D. (ed), Rump N. (ed), Springer-Verlag, 2003. 805 pp. Type: Book (9783540404651)
Date Reviewed: Apr 27 2004

This volume contains 35 papers, arranged into three sections corresponding to the book’s subtitle: technological, economic, and legal and political. In addition, it contains a very brief introduction by the editors, and concludes with a substantial summary of the two conferences (in 2000 and 2002) from which the papers are derived. The papers vary in length from eight to 58 pages. They show signs of extensive revision after the conferences. In particular, the events of 2003 (the German parliament’s amendment of its copyright law) receive considerable attention in the legal and political section.

The publisher’s statement declares that “this monograph-like anthology is the first consolidated book on this young topic.” Unfortunately, that stretches the truth. While it is a quite interesting anthology, this book is not the first of its type, and can hardly be considered monograph-like or consolidated. It is true that the editors have ensured that the papers cross reference one another, and that they share a common bibliography and index. However, the cross-references are mostly general, simply pointing out the existence of other papers, rather than knitting them together, with one author engaging specific ideas put forward by another. Sometimes the cross-references serve only to show that the papers do not use a consistent vocabulary. For example, Biddle et al. accompany the word “fingerprinting” with a cross reference to Herre’s paper on that topic; the only problem is that for Biddle et al., “fingerprinting” means forensic tagging, whereas for Herre, it means content-based identification. The papers also do not demonstrate any over-arching master plan. One consequence is considerable duplication.

The book has an admirably wide scope, not only in encompassing its three sections, but also in the range of topics and perspectives represented within each. For example, the technical section makes it clear that digital rights management (DRM) involves more than just protection measures. In fact, the longest paper in that section concerns identifiers (such as international standard book numbers (ISBNs)), and metadata. Individual authors’ attitudes towards DRM span the whole range: some seek to promote it, some are skeptical, and some openly criticize it. The overall skew is toward critical attitudes.

The strongest of the three sections is the one on legal and political aspects of DRM, and it is here that the book’s German perspective is particularly apparent. Although this section starts with an overview of US law, it then moves to European Union and German law for the bulk of the discussion. As is the case throughout the book, the majority of the authors are German, but they all write in English, generally with reasonable success. Ironically, one of those who struggled the most with the language did so in order to write a summary of US law. Surely, a US lawyer could have been found who was at least as competent to write on that topic. The combination of German perspective with English language makes this anthology ideal for Americans (and no doubt others) trying to gain some international perspective on DRM-related legal issues.

The European and German situations parallel the American to some degree; their analogs of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act are no less controversial. There are, however, important differences, which are made clear in the book. Rather than “fair use,” German law provides a number of statutory licenses, for which rights holders receive payment out of levies on copying equipment and media. If more Americans were familiar with this system, they might find the ideas of William Fisher and Lawrence Lessig less radical. The Europeans also have considerably more robust legal protection for privacy than the US, with consequences for DRM.

The editors have not screened the papers to a uniform quality standard. There were points where I nearly gave up on the book in disgust, such as upon reading Buhse and Wetzel’s unintelligible claim that “Just like on the Internet, users might access mobile music via wireless large area networks (WLANs) at hot spots like universities or airports--so-called ‘Offshore-Web-Hosting’--also offered from companies like HavenCo.Com or” However, giving up is the wrong reaction, since there are better papers later on (in fact, one of the best, by Bechtold, is the last in the book). Other quality glitches include some unusable footnote references and some proofreading oversights, such as a bold heading, “Scope of Data Protection Paw.”

These quality-control problems are particularly irritating in light of the considerable price the publisher asks for this book. Apparently, they did not take to heart the exhortations by several of the authors that one must compete with free copies by charging a reasonable price for a high-quality product. It is worth nothing that some of the best papers in the book are available free of charge on the Web.

Reviewer:  Max Hailperin Review #: CR129513 (0411-1336)
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