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Intertrust ready for DRM role

Set to move on after MS settlement

It looks like the $440m settlement between Microsoft and Intertrust is going to be worthwhile for everyone concerned, with the potential for it to release a universal Digital Rights platform before the end of the year that will change dramatically how online content is consumed.

Reading between the lines of a white paper sitting on Intertrust's website, adding a six month old promise from Philips to revolutionize DRM with an open standard by this Summer, and finally taking a few casual words from Intertrust CEO Talal Shamoon when we caught up with him this week, it looks about set to happen.

The white paper coincidentally is dated almost the same week that Philips made its boast about an open DRM platform in January. However, the paper never made it to the Intertrust website until mcu later, a few days after Microsoft had signed its settlement deal. Philips said the systems that will be launched will be open to all companies that want to make music or video players, for a reasonable fee.

The paper describes different ways in which DRM interoperability can be achieved, and settles on one approach which Intertrust calls Nemo, short for Networked Environment for Media Orchestration and it describes a way of using online connections to verify transactions, as a basis for future interoperable DRM.

In a manner that echo’s ideas that have emerged within the MPEG21 committee - whereby transactions might rely on an online reporting element to check if they are legitimate - this applies the same idea at the point in any DRM chain when a transaction, such as copying a film, is happening across a border between two devices or environments that do not adhere to the same DRM rules.

Finding Nemo

Nemo defines a set of peer roles such as client, authorizer, gateway and orchestrator, and assumes that they talk to each other over an IP network, and allocates them work to processes such as authorization, peer discovery, notification, services discovery, provisioning, licensing and membership creation.

The client simply uses the services of 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. The idea seems to be that these peers can be set up as agents that will work alongside any DRM scheme.

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.

It supports multiple media formats (MPEG4, Windows Media, and others), multiple discovery protocols (over Bluetooth and through registries such as UDDI, LDAP, and Microsoft Active Directory and universal plug and play and wi-fi based Rendezvous), and IP-based notification and wireless SMS notification on the same device.

No DRM system can be made to communicate if it doesn’t want to, but if Microsoft has already paid much of its $440m in licensing fees to participate and if Sony takes the lead by letting its studios implement a Nemo system and if both Sony and Philips incorporate these agents onto consumer electronic equipment, we are going to have a new paradigm for content protection, with an irresistible powerbase and little resistance.

Truth or Dare

Shamoon confirmed: "There will be a number of initiatives this Summer that will focus on interoperability and I believe that a scenario of DRM interoperability is possible this year. All our effort is about interoperability of DRM since the settlement."

He also indicated, as does the fact that a mobile phone was part of the testbed, that the OMA, the alliance that has settled its own DRM platform for mobile phones, is also going to be involved, but said: "We have to wait for announcements."

When Faultline raised the issue of the ContentGuard driven ISO standard in Right Expression Language, Shamoon said: "REL is important, but the fact that you and I both speak English doesn’t mean that we are both telling the truth, and REL is about agreeing a language while real DRM is about making sure everyone is telling the truth."

Microsoft has built the Content Reference Forum around the ContentGuard work at Christmas, with Macrovision, Vivendi’s Universal Music, NTT, ARM and Verisign as founding members, promising that it was the way forward for DRM interoperability. Could it be that it already knew something of the agreement with Intertrust and was only revealing part of the puzzle.

© 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 events that have happened each week in the world of digital media. Faultline is where media meets technology. Subscription details here.

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