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Universal mobile phone DRM tech ready for prime time

Industry alliance ships crucial update

The major mobile phone companies, along with some of the biggest names in computer technology and content provision, this week launched the latest version of their jointly developed copy protection system for mobile phones.

Offered under the aegis of the Open Mobile Alliance (OMA), OMA DRM 2.0 allows music, movie and games providers to offer "premium content" to mobile phone users safe in the knowledge that handset owners aren't going to copy the material anywhere they shouldn't.

The OMA has been around since June 2002, and launched the first version of OMA DRM the following November. That release was more about demonstrating how DRM might work in a mobile context than actually locking down quality content. It provided some basic copy protection features for "limited value content", as the OMA puts - material, in other words, that vendors don't mind losing.

The new release is an altogether more serious effort, apparently. It offers "improved support for audio/video rendering, streaming content and access to protected content using multiple devices, thus enabling new business models" - i.e. file sharing for profit and pleasure.

File sharing - or "superdistribution", as the OMA calls it - is possible because OMA DRM enables suppliers to separate the DRM rules from the content. When a file is shared, the receiver device is mandated to acquire the appropriate DRM data from the content owner. That data may or may not allow the content to be viewed on the receiver device.

What has made this possible - and, indeed, necessary? "Expanded device capabilities," the OMA says, tersely. Handsets are more powerful - and likely to become very much more powerful during the next 18 months or so, if Intel has its way - than they were in 2002, and the rise of the cameraphone and multimedia messaging, now has the networks keen to exploit the opportunities GPRS and soon 3G have for delivering content to phones.

Credit where it's due to the 350-odd OMA members' prescience. Having seen what happened to music on the Internet, they clearly wanted to be able to put DRM technologies in place before content started being passed from phone-to-phone as easily as it was (and still is) from PC to PC.

As per the DVD standard, OMA will not administer the licensing of its technology - this role will go to the newly formed Content Management License Administrator (CMLA). ®

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