Workshop on Technology of
Terms and Conditions
September 24-26, 1996
Report of Working Group 1
Participants: William Arms, Henry Gladney, Marie Hansen, Pamela Samuelson, Kim Taipale, Suzanne Thorin, Deborah Wolfe, and Hal Varian
Report Prepared by: William Arms and Hal Varian (generated by merging Hal Varian's detailed notes of the discussions into the summary flip charts).
A. Issues and Concepts: Identifying Requirements
The group addressed the question: What is required to permit real time management of rights and permissions in electronic material for networked libraries and publishing? The answer falls into nine topics described below. Some topics require legal clarification, but very few requirements are technical. The most important theme is the need to develop social norms, business frameworks, and accepted practices.
1. Cost Recovery. Information systems are expensive. We lack good business frameworks to reimburse authors, publishers, and other intermediaries for their efforts. Firms operate in highly competitive environments, and systems that inconvenience the user even slightly may not be adopted since they make the firm's product vulnerable to close substitutes that do not use copy protection. Possible pricing mechanisms include subscriptions, pay-by-use, statistical sampling (cf. ASCAP), and media charges. Issues in payment include the billing model (ex ante, ex post), anonymity, and choices of technology, such as smart cards.
2. Subsequent Use. The distribution of information typically moves from secure and trusted systems to less secure systems and finally to unknown systems. People fear that subsequent use of this material may undermine the entire market, yet strict boundaries are too burdensome to allow market development.
Examples of subsequent use range from plagiarism and redistribution, to criticism, commentary, citation, reference, and annotation. Some of these are highly desirable; others may be covered by fair use. Some may be covered by terms and conditions, such as payment or limited duration, but all subsequent use is beyond direct technical control.
3. Usability. Usability is a theme that runs throughout this field. Usability has different connotations to end users, authors, publishers, libraries, etc.
A system should make it easy for users to behave responsibly. The cost of compliance should be low. Specific usability topics include browsing, reviewing, search and retrieval, record keeping, and payment.
4. Terminology and Encoding. Planning in this field requires shared understanding of the basic concepts and the terms used to describe them. A glossary, for example, might promote such understanding.
For computing, the concepts must be clearly defined and encoded to allow automatic manipulation. (The work at Xerox PARC exemplifies such encoding.)
In this field, however, ambiguity is a basic fact. For example, the copyright law explicitly does not spell out some key distinctions. Libraries and publishers often do not know the precise rights that they hold on some material. This vagueness is valuable since it allows the evolution of new types of media or new types of use. Premature disambiguation may be counterproductive if it locks us into a single sort of system.
5. Acceptance and Social Infrastructure. Perhaps the key to this entire area is the question: How do we get to there from here? In some cases we can see our target we are aiming for, but not the path to get there; in others, the target is obscure. All people must discover which ways of working they will accept. Standardization, both formal and informal, has a role to play, as do agree forms of contract. [This topic is explored in Part B below.]
6. Transaction Costs. The systems that emerge must not have high transaction costs for any group of users. Some potential costs are human: negotiation, co-ordination costs, articulation of permissions, the costs of enforcement and liability, complex licenses, different business terms for each supplier or customer, etc.
Other costs are technical: simple tasks require high numbers of transactions, legacy and modern systems must coexist, and rapid change and lack of standardization pose additional problems.
7. Archiving and Preservation. Long term archiving and preservation provide a new set of challenges. A key technical problem is the evolution of media and computer systems. Related technical issues include updating, verifying, maintaining, and version control of content.
The underlying business challenge is to provide incentives for managing archives and escrow systems for times of trouble.
8. Global Considerations. All these topics must be considered in a global context. Content is likely to be in many languages, using many character sets. Technical standards vary. The legal frameworks are different, as are the cultures of control, jurisdiction, etc.
9. Security. Some aspects of this area can be enforced by technical means. A variety of security issues are involved. They include authentication, encryption, privacy, trusted systems, etc. (Note the export restrictions on encryption).
B. Acceptance and Infrastructure
The group addressed the question: What factors will encourage or inhibit widespread acceptance of rights and permissions management in digital materials on networks? This is an elaboration of Item 5 in Part A.
1. The Process of Acceptance. Systems are easier to accept one step at a time; integrated, monolithic systems are difficult to accept.
At some point, a system reaches a critical level of use or acceptance (network externalities). At that point, the system continues to grow by its own momentum. People get locked in, and switching costs become high. Factors that help reach this point include substantial sub-groups that get infected with the new concepts and preemption to suppress a proliferation of approaches.
Visible complexity is the enemy of user acceptance. Simple evolutionary steps, bridges to legacy systems, and stand alone use of components help acceptance. User confidence develops as users learn to apply simple, well-understood applications to more complex ones. An example is the steady increase in services being provided with ATM cards.
2. Enabling Organizations. Existing bodies can help, or hinder, acceptance. They include brokers (e.g., the Copyright Clearance Center), standards bodies (e.g., IETF, ANSI), market leaders (e.g., Elsevier, Microsoft), and financial organizations (e.g., Visa, banks).
A key group of enabling organizations has not yet emerged. Organizations that underpin security systems (e.g., by issuing and validating tokens) comprise this group.
3. Technical Components. Technical components are needed from many fields. For widespread acceptance, the components must be interoperable, interfaces should be open, and the components must not be restricted by barriers of patents, restrictive licenses, or fears of anti-trust restraints.
4. Confidence and Norms. Confidence is built by many factors converging. These factors include endorsement or certification by respected organizations, insurance against liability and other problems, formal standards, government pronouncements, and the reputation that is embedded in trade-marks, brand names and similar symbols.
5. Precision versus Ambiguity. Acceptance of systems requires flexibility. On the one hand there must be clear definitions of type of access, types of material, terms and conditions, etc. On the other hand, there must be sufficient flexibility for things to evolve, and people should not feel committed to systems that lock them into a single set of assumptions.
Back to the Terms and Conditions Presentations page