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PREPARED REMARKS BY RAY KAMMER
DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF STANDARDS AND TECHNOLOGY
EBOOK 2000 Washington, DC
SEPTEMBER 25, 2000


  • Good morning and welcome to Washington D.C. and EBook 2000.

  • I am Ray Kammer, director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, or NIST.

  • We are part of the U.S. Commerce Department, headquartered right across the street. Our mission is to strengthen the economy and improve the quality of life. We do that by partnering with industry to develop and apply technology, measurements and standards.

  • Two years ago many of us met at NIST in a place called Gaithersburg, at the world’s first conference on electronic books. At the time, some people called it the Woodstock of ebooks. How right they were!

  • With the industry in its infancy in 1998, I asked you then to consider open standards and interoperability for ebooks and electronic content. I urged you to avoid another “Beta vs. VHS” controversy -- and I warned you that failure to do so would be costly in terms of consumer acceptance.  I said it would stymie the growth of the electronic book industry.

  • I was merely stating the obvious.

  • At last year’s conference you acknowledged my request, and the industry delivered on a standard for electronic content, the Open eBook Publication Structure and Standard. 

  • The agility and speed with which you joined together to draft the standard demonstrated real responsiveness and foresight on the part of industry. 

  • You proved that standards are still very relevant for fast-changing technologies.

  • Developing a standard is one thing. Putting it into practice is quite another.  That’s why I am equally pleased that the industry is starting to adopt this standard.  

  • Last year we also saw the industry come together to form the Open eBook Forum that was incorporated in January. 

  • This year, we have seen the industry start to take off in earnest, and e-books are much more than just the curiosity they largely were two years ago.  Prominent author Stephen King’s sale of his novella, “Riding the Bullet,” was sold and distributed to over 400,000 consumers this past spring. 

  • On a weekly basis, Business Wire announces new alliances and products for ebooks-- from Adobe’s acquisition of Glassbook to Microsoft’s alliance with Amazon.com to distribute ebooks.  

  • We’ve come a long, long way since 400 of us met in Gaithersburg in 1998!

  • It would be easy at this point to “declare victory” and be content to say that the ebook market has emerged and is well on its way.  

  • But that wouldn’t be quite correct, and it surely wouldn’t be smart.  There still are issues of standards and interoperability along the ebook value chain that cannot – must not -- be ignored.  We know that, and so does our cosponsor on this conference, the National Information Standards Organization.

  • Today I ask this audience to consider putting your efforts toward one major area of real concern -- digital rights management.  You see, being on the eve of a major political election  -- I feel compelled to say that anyone who knows anything about ebooks knows “It’s the content, stupid!”

  • For the ebook market to thrive, content must meet the “4A” test: it must be available, accessible, authentic, and auditable. 

  • Authors and publishers must be assured that their royalty streams are protected; 

  • Consumers must be assured the content they receive is the content they want; 

  • Distributors and resellers must be assured that any security implemented is consumer friendly and does not impede content delivery, and finally --

  • All of this content must be accessible to the general public.  

  • Perhaps you think it strange that the director of a technology agency would focus on digital rights management. Perhaps you think “DRM” is the domain of policy experts, of lawyers.  

  • Think again. Digital rights management is at the center of digital convergence.

  • It brings together the issues and technologies of security, broadband access, storage, displays, privacy, and user friendliness.   

  • DRM is the promise of a familiar and rich reading experience that  consumers will demand from ebooks. DRM will determine whether or not ebooks succeed in the marketplace rather than the laboratory or the production line. 

  • As part of that rich experience, DRM must also extend to other forms of media --video, audio, and enhanced pictures.  Recombinant media will distinguish ebooks from their paper cousins.

  • The theme over the next three days is “changing the fundamentals of reading,” and there are many topics from digital rights management to business models that will be discussed.   

  • As you enjoy this multi-faceted conference, as you meet and establish new relationships, I urge you to continue to work on standards and interoperability --especially for digital rights management. 

  • We are all too familiar with the issues surrounding Napster, Gnutella, and the breaking of the CSS codes for DVD. We surely need to avoid reliving these issues for ebooks. 

  • And if NIST can help, as we have in the past to get us to this point, we offer our participation to facilitate in developing these standards. Our measurement and standards laboratories are world-class.  Our Information Technology Laboratory, in particular, is willing to continue to assist you. Dr. Susan Zevin, Deputy Director of this lab, will be speaking right after me to share more details about our work in this area. 

  • I do want to single out, our ebook Braille reader, which will be on display in the exhibit area, because it highlights an aspect of ebooks that we shouldn’t overlook. 

  • One of the advantages of ebooks is how this new communications channel can help to open up worlds of knowledge for those who just don’t have easy access to written information. 

  • The President last week highlighted the power of information technology to bridge the digital divide. Absolutely everyone in this room, and everyone in this industry, should keep in mind how these technologies can have a powerful impact on all segments of society.  I think our work on the Braille reader is a great example, and I’m proud we’ve invested in developing this technology.

  • I’ll be even prouder when it is commercialized by the private sector.

  • NIST’s collaboration with your industry is a shining example of private-public cooperation, carrying on a tradition that began when we were established nearly 100 years ago.  

  • We want to continue to work with your industry on these new digital frontiers.  We want to continue to serve the public interest.  

  • Thank you for your time, enjoy Washington, and enjoy the conference and exhibits!