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When the Coral Consortium formed last October, Faultline trumpeted loudest and longest that this may finally be the breakthrough in Digital Rights Management that the digital media industries have all been waiting for. The one reservation was that it had to move rapidly and get its specification out to the world without fuss.

The Consortium said this week that the spec is virtually ready and it will be released later this month. It also said that more members had joined up giving it the kind of critical mass that it needs from studios, technologists and consumer electronics powers, for widespread acceptance.

The Coral Consortium says it will offer interoperability across proprietary DRM systems as an alternative to the current landscape of non-interoperable closed domains protected by proprietary DRM systems and open peer-to-peer distribution systems that harbor pirated content.

Microsoft, ContentGuard and Macrovision formed a competing Content Reference Group in December 2003 with the same intent, to create (and control) DRM interoperability. It has made no statements since launch.

Make no mistake, without the interoperable DRM systems that Coral promises, there will be no consent from the content industries to put film and music content out to widespread digital distribution, which in turn will drive up piracy and undermine all existing content players. Coral announced 11 new members had joined this quarter including NBC Universal, Sony BMG, Universal Music Group, and IFPI, the organization representing the recording industry worldwide. Universal Music Group had been an original member of the Microsoft Content Reference Forum, which now seems defunct.

Other, not quite so influential additions are European DRM specialist DMDsecure, the conditional access subsidiary of News Corp NDS, CE manufacturer Pioneer, and technology companies Seagate and STMicro. These Companies join founders HP, Intertrust, Philips, Panasonic (Matsushita), Samsung, Sony and Twentieth Century Fox.

Although the group claims this is a critical mass, what it really needs is agreement from Microsoft, Macrovision and ContentGuard that it will cooperate with the first specification, which is expected to be based on Intertrust’s NEMO architecture which stands for Networked Environment for Media Orchestration, with is a way of using software agents and online connections to verify content transactions, as a basis for interoperable DRM

The Coral Consortium is really a last gasp effort to stop both anarchy within digital rights management and to potentially avoid a monopoly forming. It was first hinted at when Philips said at the beginning of 2004 that an open interoperability format for DRM would be with us by mid year. Now nine months late, it looks like it will be delivered just in time.

The Coral Consortium release said that device makers and service providers would be able to work swiftly to implement the first specification, although there is no hint yet at what kind of royalty cost will be involved with licensing the technology.

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.

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