CD copy-protection specialist Macrovision is to work with Microsoft to ensure their respective DRM and anti-rip technologies are interoperable, the two companies said this week.
Sounds straightforward enough, but the deal runs deeper. Microsoft agreed to license a number of Macrovision's patents, in particular those relating to analogue copy protection technology and more recent extensions to that system that cover video-on-demand, pay-per-view content and support for the US 'broadcast flag', which determines whether consumers will be able to record digital TV broadcasts.
Essentially, the deal positions MS' strategy of locking down as much content as it can in the hope that such an approach will find greater favour among consumer electronics kit makers and content providers than the more flexible approaches taken by, say, Apple.
As DRM increasingly restricts what users can do with digital data, the analog domain remains one way around the problem. In the case of audio, for instance, digital data ultimate has to be converted into an audio sound wave which can be recorded and re-encoded without the limitations of the DRM'd original. MS is aware of this and is clearly hoping to use Macrovision technology to help block that avenue too.
"An Internet-delivered movie, downloaded to a PC, can now be protected on analog video playback out of a PC," the two companies claimed.
The deal also signals MS' interest in building pay-per-view, VoD and support for other approaches to content delivery into Windows, the better to turn Media Center PCs into the jack-of-all-trades home entertainment systems MS wants them to be.
MS has no problem developing the code, but sooner or later it'll run into a company that was, in the past, more focused on such applications than MS was at the time.
Microsoft could, of course, just buy Macrovision, but it's treading a fine line between supporting content providers' aims and controlling the technology that underpins them. MS has already ruffled the feathers of European Union antitrust officials through its stake in DRM software maker ContentGuard - and that's just a joint ownership, with Time Warner. MS and TW neatly sidestepped further governmental entanglements by selling a portion of the DRM company to French CE vendor Thomson.
Consumers? What consumers?
That the whole thing is pitched at the content industry is clear:
"For the entertainment industry to deliver premium on-demand entertainment in the home, rights must be protected to prevent revenue loss," M'n'M say. "Microsoft and Macrovision are working to provide a flexible rights solution that allows the entertainment industry to take full advantage of new usage models for today's digital home."
No mention there of the consumer, you'll note.
Ditto the interoperability deal, which will sew Windows Media DRM systems adapted to "recognise" Macrovision's copy-protection signals embedded in analog content. So no more digitising your old VHS tapes via your Media Center PC, you hear? ®
Dozen claim MS codec patents
CE giants open DRM to the community
CE vendors unite to develop DRM
ContentGuard talks DRM futures
Macrovision gives forth on DRM
Europe pauses Microsoft DRM probe
Thomson takes 33% stake in MS-backed DRM developer
EC objects to MS - Time Warner ContentGuard takeover
Ballmeromics: the hardware way to end software piracy