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Will a Foolproof DRM Solution Please Stand Up?

It's one of the hottest issues in the Internet realm right now, turning what was once a niche that is widely-credited to have been spearheaded by Big Blue years ago into an industry-wide scramble for safe harboring intellectual property.

It's digital rights management (DRM), and if you've been following the Napsterization of all things content on the Web, you know it's importance come to the fore more now than ever. It's single most vital purpose, of course, is to prevent what somebody has created to be spread willy-nilly all over the Internet. And, it seems, the world needs this: Forrester Research estimates that by 2005, record companies will lose $3.5 billion as a result of unauthorized distribution methods and file-sharing technologies such as Napster.

Just a few weeks ago, IBM Corp. released a new version of its anti-piracy technology for music to block song traders from living it up in file-sharing heaven. IBM's new stab at putting the lock down on rampant file-sharing abuse involves allowing music to be sent from person to person.

However, any future copies come with encoded limits to what the next person on the Gnutella or Napster list can hear; the song may be played only once, or perhaps no music will be heard at all. The ideal result is that, somewhere down the pirate chain, somebody is going to get discouraged and give up.

Charting a Course for DRM Waters

DRM has its roots in the notion of encrypted content. Content would be encrypted at the source so that access could be managed over the Internet. The music, or whatever data that was being passed along, would then be decrypted once a person paid for it and then it could be played.

Then came wholesale Napsterization, with the reigning king of peer-to-peer networks leading a pack of music-theft enabling wolves such as Gnutella, Scour, and a few more. To combat this, DRM firms moved decryption out of the operating system and into the applications. Encrypted files, with appropriate decryption data, are accessed directly by applications and that way a modicum of security is established.

Which brings us to the myriad problems of DRM. While the technologies make sure recipients pay for content, they don't prevent data from being shared across multiple networks. The application-dependent DRM also faces the problem of having limits on applications to have specific decryption code embedded inside. For example, an application that works as a safeguard for an MP3 file will not work on a DVD.

They Say DRM, He Says DPP

Dr. George Friedman, CEO and founder of antitheft firm Infraworks said digital rights management is no longer where it's at. Friedman believes DRM as we have come to know and talk of it, just doesn't cut it.

Instead, he and his team have spent the last few years crafting a new breed of antitheft technology, marked down under the even more assertive category of digital property protection (DPP), for the past few years in an Austin, Texas laboratory.

"Digital property protection involves the trusted exchange of moneys," Friedman said. "As for DRM, none of it has value unless you can genuinely protect your property. On a scale of 100,000 people, say your protected from 95 percent of them. That leaves 5,000 that can steal and get it out to people to satisfy all desires. This area is unlike software where 90 percent effectiveness and great marketing wins."

Qualified by the National Software Testing Lab and called InTether, the technology involves putting a software vault on a user's PC, allowing the user to download a variety of content formats. The technology is good for the lifetime of the file and if someone cracks the file, the content is automatically destroyed and vanishes without a trace. Friedman said InTether was very difficult to create and took more than three