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Rights Expression Language

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The International Standards Organisation (ISO) - which these days we are obliged to call the International Organisation for Standardisation - has blessed a major part of the future MPEG 21 standard with ratification.

In effect, MPEG 21 Part Five is the rights expression language (REL) part of the future DRM standard. By approving its first DRM standard ever, under the name of ISO/IEC 21000-5, the ISO earned the plaudits this week of a whole list of relevant interested parties from Content-guard, which has pioneered the work on REL, through to Microsoft, Samsung, the RIAA, the MPAA, Universal Music and Warner Brothers, along with a host of consulting groups and specialist software houses.

The standardisation of an XML-based MPEG 21 REL is one of the key interoperability staging posts, the other being the creation of a Rights Data Dictionary (RDD), which is Part Six of the MPEG 21 standard.

The other parts of the standard are the digital item declaration which describes what's in a piece of digital content; the digital item identification, which lays a unique identifier on any digital content file; authentication and interoperability of management tools; an adaptation layer that takes care of movement between different networks and finally the standard needs a file format and system specifications.

But if the two key elements for interoperability, the REL and the Data Dictionary get completed, then a most closed DRM systems that adhere to these could work out proprietary handoffs between systems while waiting for the standard.

Not surprisingly the Microsoft inspired Content Reference Forum, which pushed this same REL standard prior to Christmas, was one of the entities to applaud the ISO standard. A full specification to the standard can be downloaded at the ISO site, but it makes it clear that ISO/IEC 21000-5:2004 only specifies the syntax and semantics of a Rights Expression Language.

It makes it clear that it does not clarify who is allowed to create Rights Expressions, nor does it specify the security measures of systems that use the REL, or how to go about handling monetary transactions, as most of these are in the other parts of the MPEG 21 standard and beyond.

But it says it does define an authorisation model to specify whether the semantics of a set of Rights Expressions permit a given Party to enjoy a given Right at any given time. It is independent of formats, products, security technology or other DRM system components, and it says it enables automated multi-tier distribution of digital content.

By multi-tier it doesn't automatically mean that it will be set up to allow file sharers to pass it on to other consumers, although that should be possible, but more directly relates to rights offered to retail and online distributors of content.

Neither the ISO nor MPEG has given any indication of how long it will take to ratify all or any other part of the MPEG 21 standards stack.

Copyright © 2004 Faultline

Faultline is published by Rethink Research, a London-based publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter is an assessment of the impact of events that have happened each week in the world of digital media. Faultline is where media meets technology. Subscription details here.

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