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section heading icon     identifiers

This page considers content identifiers, building blocks for digital rights management regimes.

It covers -

section marker     introduction 

Foundations for the advanced DRM schemes discussed in this note are provided by global identifiers of varying sophistication and comprehensiveness.

Those identifiers are metadata - 'information about information' - and are used for purposes that include billing, enforcement, attribution and sharing of revenue among rights owners. They may uniquely identify individual copies/uses of a work, identify a specific work or identify a basket of discrete intellectual property rights/works that comprise a specific publication. 

section marker     orientations 

A useful starting point is the detailed paper on Information Identifiers by Norman Paskin of DOI 

section marker     ISWC 

The most ambitious scheme is probably the International Standard Work Code (ISWC), a global identifier that would potentially cover all digital content and much print or other media.

The ISWC Number is a 'universal' unique identifier developed in Europe and associated with the Common Information System (CIS) under the auspices of international copyright body CISAC (International Confederation of Societies of Authors & Composers). The intention is that the identifier - with endorsement from the International Standards Organization (ISO) - will link  works, right holders and agreements. 

CISAC envisages development of a range of identification numbers -

  • ISWC
  • ISRC
  • ISAN  

The International Standard Work Code (ISWC) is being used for musical works (ISWC-T) and developed for literary works (ISWC-L). The codes are 'dumb' numbers, ie they are sequentially allocated ten-digit identifiers that do not incorporate author/region data but instead relate to a global database containing author, publisher and other rights management information.

The new number would supplement or replace the existing International Standard Music Number (ISMN), a publishers number used for sheet music and recognized by the ISO.

The International Standard Recording Code (ISRC) - being considered by CISAC and the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) - would replace the ISO-recognized Standard Recording Code identifying musical recordings such as a track on a CD, currently found on less than 40% of recordings. IFPI argues that most online content consists of "manifestations" of works ("digital objects") rather than "works" in a pure copyright sense and that the new code would allow differentiation between works and particular recordings or transmissions.

The International Standard Book (ISBN) and Serial (ISSN) Numbers have been in use for around thirty years. In contrast to the ISWC the ISBN is 'intelligent', comprising a one-digit region code, a publisher prefix, and sequentially attributed numbers specific to the publication, followed by a check digit. Journals and other periodicals are similarly identified by the ISSN. The two numbers relate to a specific title and thus do not identify constituent images, text and other content that may have a separate identity for copyright purposes. A perspective on evolution of the ISBN is provided in the US ISBN Agency's paper on The Digital World & The Ongoing Development of ISBN. The two schemes have attracted more support than the Universal Serial Item Names (USIN) and associated Bibliographic Protocol (BibP) proposal.

The ISWC will, it is expected, accommodate the PII, SICI and BICI schemes described below.

The  Compositeur Auteur Editeur Code (CAE/IPI) used by music rights management bodies was developed in 1992 by CISAC but largely superseded by the "Interested Parties" (IP) Number - confusingly using the same format - that sought to identifying all rightsholders. The format of the number itself did not change. Access to the IP database is currently restricted; some have argued that an enhanced CAE could lead to a standard identifier for all content industries.

The proposed International Standard Audiovisual Number (ISAN), a joint development of CISAC and the ISO, is a 16-digit dumb number to identify audiovisual works of all kinds. It would be administered by a non-profit-making, international agency and used to identify film and other AV content in analogue or digital formats, including compact disks, websites, packaging and contracts

The EU's ARGOS project aims to develop open systems protocols for the exchange of such standard numbers and other rights management information between networks, databases and devices. 

section marker     PII, SICI and BICI

The Publisher Item Identifier (PII) was developed in 1995 by an informal group of major scientific/technical publishers in North America and the EU. It comprises seventeen alphanumeric characters indicating publication type (book or a journal), and other information such as the year of a serial publication. 

The Serial Item & Contribution Identifier (SICI) currently used by some publishers, subscription agents and libraries does not identify individual articles. 

An expanded SICI and a new Book Item & Component Identifier (BICI), under development, would be tied to global databases and identify components of a book or serial (eg an illustration, an article, a foreword, or a table).

section marker     other projects 

Geneva-based InterDeposit has developed the InterDeposit Digital Number (IDDN), currently in use mainly for MP3 recordings.

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version of February 2003
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