Using DRM systems, superdistribution promised--depending on the preferences of content producers, distributors, and redistributors--to increase revenue for rights holders and create revenue opportunities for consumers. In short, superdistribution turns the liability of nearly instantaneous reproduction and distribution from a commercial liability to a commercial advantage.
In the 1990s, a number of people worked on business models, technologies, and services that in various ways enabled superdistribution. Brad Cox wrote a book on the topic which is still in print and available from Amazon here.
At IBM, Jeff Crigler, Marc Kaplan, and others implemented the InfoMarket service and Cryptolope ("cryptographic envelope") DRM technologies. As implemented, the Cryptolope approach enabled a client/server rather than peer-2-peer (P2P) version of superdistribution. Nonetheless, it was generally possible for consumers to pass on protected content.
At Intertrust, Victor Shear, David Van Wie, Karl Ginter, and Frank Spahn wrote a big book eventually published as issued patents that described, among other things, a Virtual Distribution Environment (VDE). A text copy is here.
Although the technologies described in the Intertrust "book" could be used to implement an extraordinarily broad range of business models, here I want to talk about the book's relevance to superdistribution.
The Shear team deconstructed what might be called the supply chain or value chain requirements for efficient distribution of digital goods. In this view, the world had to become distributed P2P. An effective DRM platform had to address the varied interests of producers, distributors, consumers, redistributors while providing a clearinghouse infrastructure for (micro)payment and usage information (if collected and reported).
One key concept coined by the Shear team is a chain of handling and control, which may be thought of as the ability of a participant to control not only how others may use protected digital content, but whether and to what extent downstream participants can modify rules relating to use and use consequences.
So a content distributor can include rules controlling whether a consumer can add to the rules such that the consumer gets a (micro)payment when the consumer redistributes the digital goods. Put another way, the distributor can choose whether or not to enable superdistribution of its content. The consumer can decide whether to pass along the content (or not) and if redistributed, whether the consumer is able and wishes to add to the associated rules.
Example: I receive a published and protected report from a market research firm. I pay $10.00. I believe that there are two people who might benefit from reading this report. I send it to them but modify the rules so that I receive from the publisher $1.00 of the $10 collected from those who receive the content from me and who agree to pay for it. This is one version of superdistribution.
Rightsholders are not required to enable this kind of "payment for pass along". Content consumers are not required to modify the rules, and those who receive content further down the chain of handling and control are not required to use and thus pay for the content. Markets, not technologies, will prevail.