A system for controlling use and distribution of digital works. The present invention allows the owner of a digital work to attach usage rights (1450) to their work. The usage rights define how the individual digital work may be used and distributed (1451). Instances of usage rights are defined using a flexible and extensible usage rights grammar. Conceptually, a right in the usage rights grammar is a label associated with a predetermined behavior and conditions to exercising the right. The behavior of a usage right is embodied in a predetermined set (1452) of usage transactions steps. The usage transaction steps further check all conditions (1453-1457) which must be satisfied before the right may be exercised. These usage transaction steps define a protocol for requesting the exercise of a right and the carrying out of a right.