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The leading vendors in consumer electronics have banded together to create a Community Source Program for digital rights management and will license the whole kit and caboodle, the patents, copyrights, compliance logo and source code to anyone that wants it.

Effectively CE DRM is going open source (to the extent that Community Source is the same as Open Source) in order to flood the market with DRM systems and route the threat offered by Microsoft in consumer electronics.

The move comes from the leading lights in the October announced Coral Consortium, and the DRMs that can be created with the new development tools will all be compliant with and ready to interoperate through the Coral interoperability standard.

These moves were made by the Intertrust–Sony–Philips DRM axis this week, with the creation of something called the Marlin Joint Development Association.

The Marlin JDA also has the backing of Samsung and Matsushita, so effectively these are the same companies that are working on the Coral DRM interoperability standard due out some time later this year.

Other members of the Coral Consortium included Hewlett-Packard and the News Corp controlled film company Twentieth Century Fox, but neither of these perhaps have intellectual property to contribute to a Community Source Program at present.

In effect, the Marlin JDA is proposing a set of specifications that will help companies, mostly smaller companies, create their own DRM systems which are automatically compliant with the Coral Interoperability standard when it comes out.

Coral is expected to be based on Intertrust’s NEMO architecture for DRM service orchestration which will have the capability built in to work with existing DRM systems such as Microsoft’s Media DRM and Apple’s Fairplay and Sony’s MagicGate, but in order to do so, each DRM owner would have to agree to “open” their DRM to the interoperability standard.

Coral competes head-on with the Content Reference Forum that was put together a year ago, lead by Microsoft and ContentGuard, which has made no announcements since.

Two planes

Talal Shamoon, CEO of Intertrust told Faultline this week, “I like to think of Coral and Marlin as two planes, one on top of the other. Whenever a DRM system, whether it is one built to the Marlin specs or an existing DRM, finds that it needs help interoperating with another DRM, it will just turn to Coral for help.

“Coral is being written in XML and according to web service standards, so it can run as a remote service or it can run on a nearby server, for instance a Home Network media hub,” Shamoon added. 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.

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

It’s a tall order but the standard for Coral should be ready later this year, and Shamoon hopes that the Marlin specifications will be out about the same time.

The architecture we expect Coral to be based on is Nemo from Intertrust, which stands for Networked Environment for Media Orchestration, which is a way of using software agents and online connections to verify transactions, as a basis for interoperable DRM. The Open Mobile Alliance’s OMA 2.00 DRM standard works in this way, and so do many others. If some part of an encryption key is delivered only when a transaction occurs (purchase, copy or transfer) then a trust chain is easier to establish.

If moving a piece of content from the control of one piece of DRM software to another 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 in a competing DRM standard.

In effect, the trust authority that manages keys makes the whole task less complex and something like a Coral based web service can manage most, perhaps all, of this.

Given the similar parallel arrangements between the Microsoft camp, led by the Content Reference Forum and ContentGuard, which last week also preached web services and DRM interoperability, then it seems likely that there will eventually be a web service that will orchestrate movement in and out of the Coral environment to Microsoft’s and vice versa.

Peer discovery

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

The client simply requests services from 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.

Intertrust has set up a testbed to link various consumer devices to a number of different services and has successfully demonstrated interoperability in one interconnected system using cell phones, game platforms, PDAs, PCs, web-based content services, discovery services, notification services, and update services. And it appears that this already includes support for Windows DRM.

“If people choose to build their own DRM system,” says Shamoon, “they can get a bunch of specifications from us, reference code for all of the functions that Coral expects, which we issue as source code under a Community Source Program, rather like the program that controls Java.

“Finally we will license the underlying patents, copyrights and trademark to all of the underlying technology and to say that your DRM is Coral or Marlin (or whatever we call it) compliant,” he explained.

Time to get a move on

Faultline has said before and will say again, that the consumer electronics companies had better get a move on, because Microsoft is gaining allies in CE which are prepared to put Windows Media DRM on devices such as DVD players, DVRs and Home media servers, and these, mostly small Chinese players, will begin to eat into Sony, Philips, Matsushita’s and Samsung’s markets if they cannot offer in return a standardized DRM approach, and soon.

Interestingly, much of the underlying intellectual property for both Microsoft’s Video Codec (VC 1) and its DRM is in fact controlled by this group

The Codec patents turn out to have belonged to Microsoft plus 11 other organizations, who have claimed essential patents in the MPEG LA licensing process for Microsoft’s VC 1 (see separate story). None of these companies sued Microsoft when it began giving away a free codec in Windows Media Player, because they could not be sure their technology was in there. As Microsoft has tried to establish it as a standard it has had to show details of how it works and deliver these to the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE). This has given the other companies a chance to view the patents and stake a claim.

The other intellectual property claim was far more high profile as Intertrust (owned by Sony and Philips) and Microsoft recently settled a suit for patent infringements with Microsoft paying $440m, so that it could license the entire patent portfolio for DRM patents at Intertrust.

So it’s not surprising that these CE companies can work out how to interoperate with the Microsoft approach, since they own most of the ideas in it.

In the digital media world that is coming, all future entertainment players will need to have a processor and an operating environment (most will chose CE Linux), and the commonality between platforms will not reside in the operating system but in the file types, the digital identifiers and an interoperability layer for the DRM systems which are most likely to be orchestrated by web services.

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 the week's events in the world of digital media. Faultline is where media meets technology. Subscription details here.

Related stories

CE vendors unite to develop DRM
ContentGuard talks DRM futures
Coral Consortium, the world's biggest DRM talking shop

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