RealTime IT News

Consumer Electronics Firms Launch DRM Toolkit

A quartet of consumer electronic (CE) giants has banded together to create a software toolkit for devices that access copyrighted content, officials announced this week.

The Marlin Joint Development Association (JDA) is the brainchild of Sony , Samsung Electronics, Royal Philips Electronics, Panasonic and DRM software company Intertrust.

The group hopes to create an industry-wide DRM software standard with the licensing of its toolkit to CE manufacturers. Officials expect version 1.0 of the toolkit to be available this summer on a "reasonable and non-discriminatory basis," a statement by Intertrust states.

The Marlin JDA is an extension of the standards being created in the Coral Consortium, formed in October 2004 to create DRM interoperability between the different DRM standards created by various manufacturers, content distributors and formats.

The group uses the intellectual property of Intertrust, a DRM vendor owned through a joint venture between Sony, Philips and Stephens Bank, to create a test bed system called the Networked Environment for Media Orchestration.

Officials said the Marlin JDA toolkit will be interoperable with any Coral-enabled DRM system, even if those systems don't use Marlin DRM components.

"Convergence across consumer Internet, broadcast and mobile devices and services over the last few years has been constrained because of often conflicting proprietary DRM technologies and differing standards for each distribution mode, such as proprietary methods of music distribution to hard-disk music players from the Internet," a statement by Intertrust stated. "The Marlin JDA specifications will allow CE companies to use a single technology toolkit to build DRM functions into their devices to support commonly used content distribution modes, in a way that promotes interoperability while maximizing efficiency in the device architecture."

But Mike Goodman, a senior analyst at the Yankee Group, wonders if the marketplace has really been asking for yet another DRM standard. He said the announcement is Sony's response to the growing popularity of Microsoft's near-ubiquitous DRM technology.

"Sony's clearly had zero success with their proprietary formats, so here's an opportunity for them to try to develop a means by which they can influence content that is being distributed," he said.

He also notes that while the announcement says the Marlin JDA is interoperable with Coral's DRM scheme, it's unclear whether it's similarly interoperable with other DRM standards like Apple's FairPlay, the Open Mobile Alliance or Microsoft's Janus.

"The question then becomes, if you don't support them then I would argue this isn't worth the paper it's written on," Goodman said.

Talal Shamoon, Intertrust CEO, said there's a misconception of the roles the Coral Consortium and the Marlin JDA play. He said Coral has been in place since October and is only now moving forward with many of its initiatives.

While the Coral Consortium has collected some big-name vendors -- notably HP , Seagate Technologies, Universal Music Group and Twentieth Century Fox Film -- the two notable no-shows are Apple and Microsoft. But Shamoon downplayed the importance of the two companies' association to the coalition's success.

"They're two formidable technology companies, that's for sure, but then you also have the entire consumer electronics industry, the entire mobile handset industry, that are also full of great companies," he said.

He said in time he expects the Coral Consortium to play a similar role with DRM as the Java community does with its software development platform; one of the goals, he said, is to gain interoperability between OMA-enabled devices, as several companies using the technology are Coral members.

Dealings between Microsoft and Intertrust date back years, though not very amenably. In April 2004, Microsoft ended a three-year legal battle with the company by agreeing to pay $440 million for a comprehensive license to Intertrust's patent portfolio.