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Intertrust, Philips and Sony have added more top consumer electronics, content and technology heavyweights to their attempt to create an open interoperable Digital Rights Management environment.

The system promised at the turn of the year in interview with Philips has taken a step closer to becoming a reality today with a new DRM clustering of companies calling itself the Coral Consortium. Lining up with the expected triumvirate of Intertrust and its two owners Philips and Sony, are more powerful names in the form of Panasonic, Samsung, Hewlett-Packard and the News Corp controlled film company Twentieth Century Fox.

Coral describes itself as a cross-industry group to promote interoperability between digital rights management (DRM) technologies used in the consumer media market and it is expected to put its weight behind the Nemo technology emerging from Intertrust. Nemo will act as a bridge between varying DRM systems, including Intertrust’s partners systems and Microsoft Windows Media DRM.

In Nemo there are defined a set of roles such as client, authorizer, gateway and orchestrator, and it assumes that they talk to each other over an IP network, and work is allocated to each of them such as authorization, peer discovery, notification, services discovery, provisioning, licensing and membership creation.

The client simply uses the services of the other three peers, the authorizer decides if the requesting client should have access to a particular piece of content; the gateway takes on the role of a helper that will provide more processing power to negotiate a bridge to another architecture and the orchestrator is a special form of gateway that handles non-trivial co-ordination such as committing a transaction.

The Consortium says its aim is to end up with an open technology framework offering a simple and consistent experience to consumers. Most DRM systems, such as Apple’s Fairplay used in its iTunes service and on the iPod, prevent consumers from playing content packaged and distributed using one DRM technology on a device that supports a different DRM technology.

Coral’s answer is to separate content interoperability from choice of DRM technology by developing and standardizing a set of specifications focused on interoperability between different DRM technologies rather than specifying DRM technologies.

Interoperability

The resulting interoperability layer supports the coexistence of multiple different DRM technologies and permits devices to find appropriately formatted content in the time it takes to press the play button, without consumer awareness of any disparity in format or DRM .

In a recent interview with Faultline, Ruud Peters, the chief executive of Philips's intellectual property and standards unit told us: “We cannot force Microsoft to join. This whole thing has to be done on a voluntary basis, but if Microsoft systems means that there are devices which cannot play content, and if that content can play on all other devices, then it is Microsoft that will be seen as not friendly.”

He also explained that when moving a piece of content from under the control of one piece of DRM software to another, if it was to involve a Trust Authority deciphering the content using an authorized key, and then re-encrypting using another key, then there is never any need to “break” the encryption system in a competing DRM standard.

Coral says it will provide interoperability for secure content distribution over web and home network-based devices and services but has yet to say anything in detail about the technology it will be using. More details will emerge at www.coral-interop.org.

This grouping speaks for over half the Hollywood feature films on the planet, around 25 per cent of all popular recorded music and substantially more of the branded consumer electronics goods, and probably has the strength to hold a standoff with Microsoft’s PC based DRM. Twentieth Century Fox is also reported this week to have agreed to adopt the Blu-ray disc standard for next-generation DVD players. Not surprising, considering who its new DRM friends are.

With Sony, its recently acquired MGM Studios and Fox backing the Blu-ray standard, it’s almost a slam dunk for the Sony, Philips, Panasonic standard over the DVD Forum’s HD DVD competing standard, which is still not ready.

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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