RealTime IT News

Microsoft's DRM Lock a Bit Rusty

Microsoft said it has updated its Windows Media digital rights management (DRM) software to keep it locked.

Microsoft confirmed to internetnews.com that it sent an e-mail to the engadget Web site alerting companies it had updated its Windows Media Format to protect "against a new circumvention tool."

The update is not yet available for Windows users, and the note from Microsoft's Windows Digital Media division stresses "consumers are not at risk in any way."

The reaction is a response to reports that an application called FairUse4WM can remove the DRM portion of Windows Media files.

The program, posted on Doom9.org, a site visited by people seeking to save digital content on PCs, was created to "improve the interoperability of legitimately acquired media files," according to the software.

"Microsoft is aware that a tool recently surfaced that circumvents Windows Media Digital Rights Management technology –- breaking the content protection that our content providers apply to their intellectual property, such as music or video content," Marcus Matthias, senior product manager of the Windows Client Division, said in the e-mail statement.

Mathias said Microsoft "has long stated that no DRM system is impervious to circumvention –- a position our content partners are well aware of as well," according to the statement.

"That is why we designed the Windows Media DRM system to be renewable, so that if such events occur, the system can be refreshed to address them."

Both Microsoft and Apple employ DRM technology to limit the copying of downloaded music or other content.

While Microsoft targets PCs and mobile devices for its PlaysForSure system, Apple's FairPlay code is embedded in music purchased via iTunes.

The DRM market is expected to generate $278 million by 2008, according to JupiterKagan.

Likewise, burgeoning online music sales require effective control of copyrighted material, according to Gartner media analyst Mike McGuire.

Companies won't get licenses from music labels without DRM, according to McGuire.

With movie studios testing the waters for video downloads, desire for even stronger DRM is likely, according to the analyst.

"They don't want any of the hiccups that the music industry has seen," he said.

Companies like Microsoft find themselves against a rock and a hard place as they attempt to balance the needs of nervous content providers with consumers already complaining about restrictions placed on distributing content, according to McGuire.

Lenience one way could slow adoption of online music sales while too many bars and locks might cause consumers to return to trading music via peer-to-peer systems.

This is not the first rebellion against DRM.

In 2003, the movie industry went to court to stop Web sites posting the DeCSS computer code which decrypted DVDs.

A Princeton University team cracked the copyright technology planned to protect digital music, winning a $10,000 challenge.

Most recently, Apple's iTunes use of DRM was attacked by French legislators who supported a call to decrypt FairPlay for use on MP3 players beyond the iPod.

RealNetworks made a similar attempt in 2004 with its Harmony Technology DRM translator.

Sun Microsystems last week became the latest to try to break the DRM lock, announcing its DRM/everywhere (DReaM) project for a royalty-free interoperable alternative.

The law will never keep up with technology, maintains McGuire. DRM, designed as an accounting and tracking tool, is used more often as a lock.