The Demise of POTS: An Internet Engineer’s Perspective

By: Carolyn Duffy Marsan

Date: July 1, 2013

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Whether or not the Internet engineering community should create a standard mechanism for content creators to articulate how they want their original works to be used by others online was the topic of a panel discussion sponsored by the Internet Society in March.

“The culture is such that once you’ve got your digital fingers around a piece of content, you can and will do whatever you want with it,” said moderator Leslie Daigle, chief Internet technology officer for the Internet Society (ISOC). “What you should or shouldn’t do is a matter completely outside the realm of the Internet.”

Daigle posed questions to the panel of experts about the technical feasibility of content creators establishing online-use preferences for their work and the possibility of law-abiding citizens discovering these preferences.

“Assuming we want to do something more fine-grained about capturing content makers’ intentions, what is it we want to do?” she asked. “Certainly we want to express intended rights. But would they be carried with the content or looked up on some server? Either way, we probably need some notion of authentication and integrity.”

Daigle urged the panel to avoid the topics of digital rights management and enforcement. She pointed out that the IETF has worked in related areas, including uniform resource names (URNs), uniform resource characteristics (URCs), and metadata—and that none of these efforts resulted in a widely used standard.

“We may ask ourselves if there is sufficient interest in trying to assign or understand the rights associated with digital content,” she said. “Maybe now we can find some of those narrowly defined use cases and move this whole program forward.”

Panelist Glenn Deen, director of networking and distribution at NBCUniversal, said there has been a major shift away from the perception of Internet users as solely consumers of professionally created content toward one of users themselves as content creators.

“There are channels to enable the posting of content, but no way to identify that the content is mine and what others are allowed to do with it,” Deen said. “What we’ve failed to do as engineers is to allow people to do the right thing if they want to… Instead of focusing on the use case of how do I prevent someone from using my content, the new question is: How do we enable the guy who wants to do the right thing with my content? That’s the infrastructure we need to figure out.”

Leif Johansson, a panelist who leads the Swedish University Academic Identity Federation, expressed concerns about a world in which content creators are always identified and there exists neither privacy or anonymity.