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Record sales of a Stephen King story exclusively in electronic format recently marked a milestone in Internet publishing. Although King was not the first author to venture into the “e-book” market, his story “Riding the Bullet” drew attention from both readers and the media. An estimated 400,000 orders were processed in the first 24 hours it was posted, as horror fans downloaded the story to read on their computer screens and Palm Pilots, in exchange for a $2.50 fee. User-friendly copyright protection technology was critical to this process, so that readers could enjoy the instant gratification of downloading authorized copies of the story. PORTABLE DOCUMENT FORMAT A company called Glassbook provided the copyright-protection technology for the downloads. Although the software used in this case is proprietary to Glassbook, many copyright protection programs are based on the same publicly available standards. First, the file containing the story was converted into Adobe’s portable document format, or PDF. Other document formats can be used; for example, a standard called Open eBook Publication Structure is currently being developed for this purpose. The PDF file can then be encrypted by the online publisher so it can be sent confidentially to users. Users can download these encrypted PDF files only using proprietary software provided by the publisher. The software, once downloaded and installed by the user, integrates with the user’s web browser so that the browser can recognize encrypted texts and certain features embedded within these texts. ‘VOUCHER’ The most important of these features is the password that lets the user decrypt the encoded text. To deliver this password to users, the publisher creates what is referred to in the Glassbook system as a “voucher,” in a format called the Electronic Book Exchange (EBX) standard. This voucher is a small file written in XML, a computer language related to the HTML that forms the World Wide Web. XML is especially suited to this task because it can accurately describe the levels of permission the publisher wishes to grant to the user. For example, XML fields linked to the Stephen King story could activate software functions that prevented readers from printing out the whole story, cutting and pasting large chunks of it into other programs, or posting the whole story to a Web site. The user downloads the voucher containing the password and copyright restrictions at the same time as the story is saved to that user’s computer. This voucher is encrypted by the publisher using a public key generated using the publisher’s copy of the copyright protection software. (The software generates a public and private key for both the user and the publisher. Each public key encrypts data, and each private key decrypts data. The encryption algorithm generates the keys in such a way that the private key cannot be deduced by someone who knows the public key). SECURE SOCKET LAYER When the user’s browser establishes a connection with the publisher’s Web site, that Web site authenticates the user by means of SSL (Secure Socket Layer, an Internet security protocol) and the user’s public key. The publisher’s server decrypts the voucher using the publisher’s private key and creates a personalized voucher for the reader. This voucher may register the user’s payment information or give the user-specific rights with regard to use of the text. The publisher then re-encrypts the personalized voucher — this time using the reader’s public key. The reader can now use his or her private key to decrypt the personalized voucher, access the password to the story, and read it in decrypted format. Perhaps appropriately for a Stephen King tale, there was a surprise twist in the story of the online distribution of “Riding the Bullet.” An unknown source “cracked” the copyright protection software and posted free copies of the story on the Internet without the author’s permission. According to some reports, the relatively weak 40-bit key encryption was attacked, allowing the “cracker” to decrypt the story and post free copies. Publishers responded by adopting stronger 64-bit key encryption. This suggests that encryption technology is still a reasonably secure way to sell copyrighted works online, provided that it is strong enough to prevent decoding by most commercial users. It is hoped that Internet sales of “Riding the Bullet” will encourage authors and publishers to offer more content online, and give software programmers an incentive to devise more reliable means of copyright protection for digital works. Jenevra Georgini is assistant general counsel at American International Group. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be attributed to American International Group.

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