Tuesday, November 04, 2003


Digital rights management and the breakdown of social norms by Christopher
At the centre of the protection of intellectual property rights (IPRs) is a
long history of political bargains struck between private rights to reward
and the social benefit of information/knowledge diffusion. The historical
dynamic of politics in this policy area has been to expand the rights of
owners while circumscribing the public realm of information and knowledge.
In recent decades the public domain has become merely a residual, all that
is left when all other rights (as constructed by IPRs) have been exercised.
The advent of digital rights management (DRM) technologies has disturbed a
reasonably legitimate politico-legal settlement over "fair use," challenging
the existing balance between the rights of "creators" and the interests of
users. The breakdown of the norms underpinning IPRs has prompted renewed
debate regarding their legitimacy. Although it is technological change that
has enhanced not only the ability to copy but also the potential to control
the distribution of content, this paper suggests that this argument will not
be won or lost in the realm of technology. Rather, new technologies return
the question of the control of knowledge and information (content) to the
realm of politics.

Vera Franz
Program Officer
Information Program
Open Society Institute