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Storage vendors suffer vertical vertigo

Content industry upright on DRM

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Which is where the bearings start to squeak a little. "We see the biggest issues being faced by everybody as DRM," said Pait, succinctly. "I was asked this at Digital Hollywood in Los Angeles, where people involved with DRM were talking to people involved with systems."

And? "There was generally no agreement on how it's going to move forward."

That's quite a bucket of water to throw on those happy numbers. But it reflects the obstinacy of movie studios over licensing, and the tussles between companies like Apple and Microsoft over whose DRM should be used for music.

"Where consumers are frustrated, they will circumvent the system," noted Pait. "People are going to want to be able to do the same with magnetic media that they can with optical. You can take a DVD player and put it in your car."

The companies involved are looking for methods where you could have a "domain of secure content" - ie, the places which you tell your hard drive it's allowed to play its content in. Say, your house, car, kids' computers, work. But that's not quite as good as a DVD, which you can take to a friend's house on the spur of the moment, is it?

"There are huge issues involved," agreed Tait.

John Best, chief technologist at Hitachi Global Storage Technologies, agrees that "DRM is certainly an important issue for all of us in this industry," though he's more optimistic than Pait, thinking that while it will add "drag" to growth, it's "not a major obstacle". He says that "it's a question more of standards than of DRM."

But if your HD-enabled car stereo can't play the songs you downloaded to your iPod, or vice-versa, then you're not going to bother with it, are you? You'll buy the cheaper car model without it, or else complain like hell and curse all the makers you can. If your kids can't watch the film you bought legally and downloaded to your PC over your fast internet connection on their handheld computers, you might as well just get a DVD instead. And once bitten, twice shy of hard drives everywhere. In such ways do forecast revenues dribble away and flatline instead of soaring.

Yet the movie and TV studios aren't as unyielding as you might imagine. "They may be less far along than the music business, which has now got into digitisation of songs. But they recognise it's going to happen, with or without them. The question right now is how soon do you monetise it?" said Pait.

Seagate reckons that the sooner it's all sorted, the better: "then we'll have a standard that works well on lots of systems, rather than proprietary stuff that works perfectly on very few systems."

We'd say amen to that. But we'd also not hold out every hope of its happening in a hurry. The hard drive guys may have trumped the quantum world, but here they're up against something much tougher to beat: the tiny-mindedness of the content industry. You can only wish them luck. ®

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