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ISMA Pushes DRM for MPEG-4

With the pace of MPEG-4 adoption slowed by the absence of Digital Rights Management (DRM) capabilities, the non-profit Internet Streaming Media Alliance (ISMA) is pushing ahead with plans for the final release of a content protection specification in June.

The ISMA, which is leading the lobby for market adoption of an open standard for streaming rich media over the Internet, has released for peer review a new DRM spec which defines an implementation agreement for streaming ISO-compliant MPEG-4 video and audio over Internet Protocol networks.

The alliance is looking for experts in network security, content protection and cryptography to review the completed ISMA Content Protection specification.

Once it clears peer review, finalization of the DRM spec is expected in June. The ISMA promises the DRM specification would set up a complete encryption scheme for streaming media and file downloading that is married with different key and rights management technology and licensed content protection devices.

ISMA president Tom Jacobs said the new spec is based on the National Institute of Standards & Technology's (NIST) 128-bit AES encryption standard, which is being used in consumer electronic and wireless communities. "[It's] unencumbered by any additional royalty fees and intellectual property concerns and compatible with established Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) specifications," Jacobs said.

The lack of DRM capabilities to protect multimedia content delivered in MPEG-4 is one of the biggest headaches for MPEG LA, the group that represents the 18 patent holders. Without viable DRM software in place, Yankee Group analyst Ryan Jones recently said content producers would turn to rivals Microsoft and RealNetworks for encoding because DRM tools are fitted within a single encoding platform.

"It is a big concern among many media companies, big and small...MPEG-4 is already at a disadvantage because of the installed base of media players from Microsoft and Real. That popularity is very difficult to overcome. The DRM hurdle is a huge one," Jones told internetnews.com.

MPEG-4 currently allows content producers to use interfaces to accept third-party DRM software but because it is left so wide open, is a huge turn-off for content owners. Microsoft and RealNetworks have already built DRM capabilities within their respective offerings and Jones said content owners are choosing those platforms ahead of MPEG-4 because they want a single solution on a single platform.

Now, it appears the ISMA has found an aspirin for the DRM headaches. The latest spec will build upon the alliance's v1.0 specification released in 2001 and it is being hailed as the "significant next step" towards market adoption of multi-vendor, interoperable streaming media products and services.

"It builds upon existing open standards and provides a core technical foundation for the protection of digital content. It will ultimately enable a wider range of high-value content to be distributed by content owners and help to promote greater product and service interoperability," Jacobs added.

The alliance said the content protection scheme was designed for easy integration with many different types of rights and key management systems. The ISMA was founded in 2000 by MPEG-4 patent holders including Apple Computer , Cisco Cystems , IBM Corp. and Sun Microsystems .