Europe pauses Microsoft DRM probe

Ponders options as ContentGuard gains third owner

The European Commission has halted its investigation into Microsoft's attempt to control DRM software company ContentGuard after it emerged that Thomson is also to take a share in the anti-piracy technology provider.

Thomson's purchase was announced last week. It is to buy 33 per cent of ContentGuard, until now owned almost 50:50 by Microsoft and Time Warner after they, in turn, bought it off Xerox in April. The Thomson deal allows the European company to name two ContentGuard board members.

Microsoft's decision to take a stake in ContentGuard prompted the EC to look into the deal, leading to a formal investigation being initiated in August. The EC takes a close interest in technologies such as DRM, which it believes could be used to exert undue influence on the developing digital content download market.

At this stage its not entirely clear why that probe has been suspended. "There is information still missing, so we stopped the clock for the moment,'' an antitrust spokesman told the Associated Press. Presumably, the EC needs time to ponder the impact of the Thomson deal on its investigation, though the spokesman would not confirm what effect the French consumer electronics firm's move might have.

ContentGuard's technology, Extensible Rights Markup Language (XrML), is an XML-derived scheme for content protection that its developer is pitching as a possible basis for a standard DRM system. Its technology has already been adopted by Microsoft as a component of its own DRM system. Sony is the company's other key signing - the Japanese giant licensed ContentGuard's technology in December 2002. ®

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