Our Standards for E-commerce Part 2: Complications, Comparisons, and Trends

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December 2011
by Mark Bide

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Adjusting business strategies in the light of the “switch to digital” necessitates familiarity with the complex landscape of standards. As noted in Part 1 of this series describing that landscape (November), efforts are under way to simplify the implementation of book industry standards. But there are also trends moving in the opposite direction.

One of these involves the management of rights. Ultimately, as the distribution of content moves from the physical to the digital environment, the unit of commerce moves from being sale of a product to sale of a license. This has major consequences.

You cannot sell someone a file; far less can you sell them the work that is recorded in that file. All you can sell is a set of rights to access and use that file and the work that it contains. This is a statement of the blindingly obvious.

You can, of course, choose to license people to make use of that file as if they owned something (including giving them a right to resell it or to give it away) but that is a completely separate issue. In the licensing of digital content, it is difficult not to think in terms of analogies with what exists in the physical wor
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