Web Magazine for Information Professionals

ECMS: Electronic Copyright Management Systems

Pedro Isaias considers Electronic Copyright Management Systems (ECMS).

The theme covered by this article is currently a matter for discussion in the digital library arena. Since the birth of the first digital libraries, publishers, authors and information consumers have been debating the best ways to manage access to information. It is within this context that this work is intended to make a small contribution. It illustrates the following points in an objective way:

Copyright and the emergence of ECMS

On the one hand, ECMS are a way of giving answers to worries about copyright questions, and on the other, a way of systematising document information management processes such as: access control, author feed-back and availability of information. The appearance of ECMS (not exactly named as such) has happened in parallel to several digital library initiatives (USA) and electronic libraries (Europe). It is obvious that digital/electronic libraries cannot exist without copyright issues being managed. The question nowadays lies in the legal protection of these systems [1]. There has been a lot of discussion in the USA and Europe [2] about this. Should legislation be reinforced or even newly created, or should ECMS be developed and used as a natural way to impose copyright ? [3]

In the USA, the Clinton administration has produced a report on "Intellectual property and the national information infrastructure" [4], the well known NII report which did make explicit reference to the protection of ECMS. In Europe there have been several debates about protecting or not protecting ECMS. One of the arguments against protecting them is that they don't solve all the problems, since they impose financial barriers and access restrictions.[5] Since no legislation protects ECMS, nothing stops someone who wishes to circumvent these systems of actually doing it, without any legal sanctions. But even if ECMS are not explicitly protected by law, one has to point out the role which they can perform in imposing and applying copyright.

ECMS can enable the following: the control of the number of copies; printing and undertaking any other actions upon a work; what can be done with a work (for example: only permission to view); not to change a work (without permission).

Advantages and Disadvantages

The initiative of an author to authorise his work to be digitised can have benefits and also carry risks. Among the benefits are the opening up of new markets and new opportunities to publicise the work (and offer better access to it). Among the risks are the danger of unauthorised copies and unauthorised use of the work. In the context of document information management, we can view ECMS as a necessity and an imposition. However, ECMS have advantages and disadvantages.Advantages are:

The use of ECMS also has some disadvantages, which will now be outlined:

Conclusions and future perspectives

Several questions arise when considering ECMS. In my opinion, most of the important ECMS issues are still not resolved completely. In the copyright arena, as a whole, ECMS are a very complex issue and it is my belief that it should be ECMS that makes copyright be implemented and not copyright that protects ECMS in the future.

The advantages and disadvantages of ECMS were discussed. From the advantages listed in this article, one can conclude, however, that it is far better to implement and use the ECMS reality widely. Some of their disadvantages, like the non-trustworthiness of some payment systems and their complexity in some cases, are a reality that will certainly evolve into more reliable and easy solutions - it is a matter of time. The privacy issue is, in my opinion, by far the most difficult to solve - but nowadays when we have cookies and intelligent agents sensing and recording our behaviour on the Net, will this still be a problem?


[1] Oppenheim , C. (1996): "Legal Issues associated with Copyright management Systems", Ariadne Issue 2 - http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue2/copyright/
[2] European Commission (1995): "Green Paper Copyright and Related Rights in an Information Society"
[3]Angell, D. (1997):"The Copyright Question - Making the Net Safe and profitable for Copyrighted Content", Internet World magazine vol.8 nÂș 1 - http://www.internetworld.com/
[4] Working Group on intellectual property rights, information infrastructure task force. Green Paper: Intellectual property and the national information infrastructure (September 1995)
[5] it is common that users reject the use of complex computer systems
[6] an example of this system is the INFOLINE system from the Portuguese National Institute of Statistics (INE)

Author Details

Pedro Isaias
European projects manager at ISEGI - New University of Lisbon and Professor at Portuguese Open University
Email: pisaias@mail.telepac.pt