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Commentary: No easy way to protect content

The arrest of Russian programmer Dmitry Sklyarov highlights the turmoil that the Internet has created in businesses intent on protecting their content.

By Alan Weintraub and James Lundy, Gartner Analysts

The arrest of Russian programmer Dmitry Sklyarov highlights the turmoil that the Internet has created in businesses intent on protecting their content. Businesses must find the right mixture of technical and tactical approaches.

For allegedly writing software that could crack the copy protection used in Adobe Systems' e-book format, Sklyarov was charged with violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Sklyarov's arrest represents the lengths to which content owners will go to protect their copyrights--whether the material is in digital form or hard copy. Publishers of software and digital books and music feel a growing threat to their businesses from an Internet environment that favors easy access and free content. Accordingly, they have become more aggressive in taking legal action against those they deem copyright violators.

This approach largely represents a rearguard action. Even if authorities were to prosecute and convict Sklyarov, the Russian company that employs him, ElcomSoft, would continue in business. U.S. companies often have difficulty getting copyrights enforced in other countries, especially developing nations such as Russia.

The ElcomSoft-Adobe case also shows that security protection of electronic content is not perfect--although Adobe could strengthen its digital rights management (DRM) software to make it more hacker-proof. The protection keeps the honest people honest and provides enough of a deterrent to make people think about what they are doing when they try to access for-pay content without going through the usual sales channels. To protect their intellectual property, content owners can also turn to licensing agreements, which many consumers will avoid if they could go elsewhere to get free, easy access to the content.

Alternatively, DRM technology offers a way to better manage the relationship with the consumer by enabling the content seller to set levels and conditions of access.

See news story:
Adobe: Free the Russian programmer
None of these options--prosecution of copyright violators, security protection and licensing agreements--is perfect, so businesses will need to do them in combination. Content owners should seek legal counsel on the effectiveness of prosecutions. To protect intellectual property as much as possible, enterprises should work on providing a protected content (enterprises should educate themselves about the benefits of DRM) as well as associated licensing agreements. In some cases, DRM will make more sense; in others licensing may fit better.

To decide the right mix, companies should consider the issue within the context of their strategies, business models and partnerships. For example, developing a network of reliable, appropriate partners to sell and distribute content will strengthen an overall business model--and reduce vulnerability to revenue losses from piracy.

(For related commentary on the e-book market and technology, see

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