Interoperability and Innovation

I was able to participate in a very useful seminar organised by the University of St Gallen in Switzerland and the Berkman Centre at Harvard Law School, on the theme of ICT interoperability and innovation, and held in Weissbad in the small Swiss canton of Appenzell.

Three “takeaways” for me were:
– clarifying different levels of interoperability: on the “content” level, we have it more or less “sorted” in the sense that a wide range of content encapsulation formats for different “media” are available, whether documents (PDF, Word, RDF, ODF, etc), images (JPG, RAW, PNG, TIFF, etc), sound (AAC, MP3, WM*, etc) or video… However, this does not imply that content “knows what it is” – it’s just data (as one participant stated – “data don’t know whether it’s legal or not”…);

– as a follow-on from this, therefore, issues regarding ownership, custodianship, copyright, etc. need to be addressed as a distinct issue-set – the question is whether this is done as part of the content (content scrambling/encryption) or part of the service delivering/accessing/managing the content. At the level of system interoperability, therefore, much work still needs to be done.

– DRM has no long-term future, if it is understood purely as a supplier-controlled system, with no mechanism for consumers to assert ownership, receipt/disposal and protection of their own content. Interoperability should rather be a negotiated process (whatever the context) between content providers and consumers that matches different policies, rather than a unilaterally imposed solution, controlled exclusively by one party. With the current model, there will be just an ugly escalation of tougher encryption and draconian anti-piracy measures alongside ever more sophisticated hacks and public revolt: not a pretty scenario…

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