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[FYI] Should We Trust "Trusted Systems?"


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Should We Trust "Trusted Systems?"

By Tobe Liebert  

Published February 15, 2000  

A high-tech solution to the problem of protecting intellectual 
property on the Internet is quickly becoming reality. And it’s a 
reality that libraries may not like.  

Several companies are busy developing “trusted systems” designed to 
bring an unprecedented level of security to information exchange on 
the Internet. Trusted systems are combinations of software and 
hardware that will not only prevent unauthorized access to content, 
but introduce a management and tracking model not yet available on 
the Internet. The term "digital rights management" is also commonly 
used to describe such  systems.  


Mark Stefik, who works at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, gives 
the following definition of a trusted system: "hardware and software 
that can be relied on to follow certain rules. Those rules, called 
usage rights, specify the cost and a series of terms and conditions 
under which a digital work can be used. . . . Although the techniques 
that render a system are trustworthy are complex, the result is 
simple. Publishers can distribute their work -- in encrypted form -- 
in such a way that it can be displayed or printed only by trusted 
machines." See "Trusted Systems" at 

If effective trusted systems are developed, and the usage rights to 
the protected material are controlled by licenses drafted by the 
content provider, then any information or other digitized material 
distributed in this manner can be used only in ways approved by the 

InterTrust Technologies Corporation is the most visible company 
developing a trusted system. InterTrust's digital rights management 
system is a complicated combination of software and hardware. The 
InterTrust's system works as follows:  

Client software must be installed by the user. Once activated, this 
is referred to as an "InterRights Point." This "InterRights Point" 
creates a local database which stores the user's rights, transactions 
and budgets. All of the user's rights (such as the rights to print, 
transfer, copy or edit) are specified and enforced by this software.  

The protected content (whether text, audio, video, etc.) is contained 
in a "DigiBox Container". This is something like a secure envelope 
through which the content is sent out over the Internet. The content 
provider packages the content in a "DigiBox Container" and it can be 
un-encrypted and accessed only through an "InterRights Point." Thus, 
both the sender and receiver of content must have the "InterRights  
Point" software loaded onto their computers.  


The UCITA recognizes the license and the DMCA protects the trusted 

This would indeed be a dramatic reversal of early predictions of the 
indefensibility of copyright on the Internet. On the positive side, 
this strength of protection offered by trusted systems could have the 
beneficial effect of encouraging authors to make all of their work 
available electronically. This would, at least, increase the 
availability of content, if pricing is reasonable. In this new 
universe, however, libraries would have to completely rethink their 

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