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The Battle over Digital Rights Management: A Multi-Method Study of the Politics of Copyright Management Technologies

Bill D. Herman

Communication and Media Management, Gabelli School of Business

April 17, 2009

Digital rights management (DRM) refers to various technological systems by which copyright holders seek to exert control over the use and circulation of their works. This dissertation explores the policy debate over copyright law as a potential vehicle for regulating DRM technologies. It examines this debate in three separate time periods, between 1989 and 2006, as it took place in Congress, in The New York Times and Washington Post, and online. It answers the question: Which policy actors communicate most regularly in which media about DRM and copyright law, and how has this changed over time?

Methods used include quantitative content analysis of documents from all three media, qualitative historical policy analysis, and web graph analysis tools that quantify and map the hyperlinks between websites. This work builds upon and extends the methodology of using web graphs as a tool for identifying the most central actors within a topical cluster of websites.

Results illustrate the birth and growth of a fairly unified multi-sector strong fair use coalition. Voices of opposition to the regulation of DRM via copyright have moved from profound underrepresentation to approximate parity in congressional access, successfully moved press coverage in a more favorable direction, and dominated the online debate. Policy outcomes reflect this shift; while the strong copyright coalition successfully pushed through two major laws expanding copyright in the 1990's, by the mid-2000's, the strong fair use coalition had fought them to a draw, stopping proposed expansions of copyright and winning key congressional allies for a proposal to reduce DRM regulations.

This dissertation's results suggest the substantial power of online issue advocacy. In particular, the web benefits policy coalitions that have a disadvantage in financial capital but a comparatively large base of support. Coalitions still need regular interpersonal communication with policymakers, but online coalition building and advocacy appear to be of substantial help, legitimizing and amplifying the message of under-resourced coalitions.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 483

Keywords: copyright, policy subsystems, internet, political communication

JEL Classification: K39, K49, O34, O38

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Date posted: April 28, 2009  

Suggested Citation

Herman, Bill D., The Battle over Digital Rights Management: A Multi-Method Study of the Politics of Copyright Management Technologies (April 17, 2009). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1357203 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1357203

Contact Information

Bill D. Herman (Contact Author)
Communication and Media Management, Gabelli School of Business ( email )
113 West 60th Street
New York, NY 10023
United States
347-987-1538 (Phone)
HOME PAGE: http://billyherman.com

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