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Is Google DRM crippling culture as great as it seems?

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CES Opinion Anyone the least bit concerned about DRM (digital rights management) technology would likely have been put off by Google co-founder Larry Page's ho-hum approach to revealing the company's new proprietary media locks. And with good reason.

"We have our own DRM that we're using," Page said, during a keynote at CES. "We'll be open to other things, but (creating our own) seemed like the easier thing to do."

Google's DRM will make its first appearance as part of a new video downloading service. Page revealed that customers will be able to buy TV shows from CBS, NBA basketball games and a host of other content with Google serving as the delivery broker for the video. This move mimics other technology companies - most notably Apple - which have struck deals with large media houses to send video over the web for a fee.

Along with the service, Google has also released its own, slick video player.

None of this is bad or surprising when examined from Google's perspective. The ad broker has every right to push on with new businesses and use its might, prestige and hype to secure prominent partnerships with the likes of CBS. And, heck, if Apple and Microsoft can create DRM systems, then why can't Google?

You can, however, see a crisis evolving for internet users and consumers. Apple has a very locked down DRM system that revolves around iTunes and iPods only. Microsoft has a lot of partners for its DRM, making it look open and like a standard. Of course, the MP3 players and services that support Microsoft haven't garnered near as much interest as Apple's rival offerings. So, Microsoft isn't really a standard at all but rather a small, less closed garden. Meanwhile, Real Networks comes off as a type of neutral player that also has its problems by not being promoted on the iPod and by relying more on a music rental service than a booming per song shop like iTunes.

Now, you can add Google DRM and Google Video to this mess.

We might be less nervous about Google's DRM revelation if it provided more information on the technology. Page refused to say anything beyond the two sentences above, and played off the whole DRM thing as no big deal.

We also can't locate much of anything about Google DRM on the company's corporate web site or fantastic blogs. Perhaps your Googling skills are better than ours, and we welcome aid.

Is Google DRM simply a mechanism for protecting the videos of its partners and making sure they get paid for their content? Or is it much broader than that?

How will it work with Microsoft's DRM, Apple's DRM and Real's DRM? Will it extend to music? If so, what will the limitations be on how often you can copy songs or how many devices can store the tunes?

Google says that one of its corporate goals is to "do no evil." Hasn't it just crapped all over that objective by entering the race to weigh down our culture with cement bricks?

That last query may be over-dramatic. But, then again, it might not be.

Google has a long history of keeping its technology mechanisms and intentions private. It won't say a lot about how Page Rank works. It's never provided a policy on how it picks Google News stories. Heck, it won't even let Register reporters visit the company's campus, and one of our staff lives right down the street.

Having one of the world's largest and currently most powerful IT companies announce that it has constructed a new DRM system and then not reveal a single detail about the technology is just plain unacceptable.

Many of you – who have become obsessed with the god you call Googlor – will no doubt suck down Google's DRM with pride.

Hopefully, some of you will be more careful and force the company to answer a few questions first. CBS might make the TV shows, but we all share the culture. ®

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