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Group calls for copy protection Rosetta stone

MPEG founder looks for standards that let portable music and video players speak the same language.

John Borland Staff Writer, CNET News.com
John Borland
covers the intersection of digital entertainment and broadband.
John Borland
2 min read
Tired of the confusing mess of copy protection tools that keep some songs and videos from playing on your iPod or Napster player? So is Leonardo Chiariglione.

The Italian engineer, who founded the Moving Pictures Experts Group (MPEG), is moving ahead with his new Digital Media Project (DMP), hoping to bridge the gaps between resolutely incompatible copy-proofing technologies from companies like Microsoft, Apple Computer and Sony.

The group has issued a call for standards that would let different portable music and video devices play the same content, without the barriers that keep iPods and Sony players wholly separate today.

"The digital media market is in gridlock, lacking both a moral and technological framework, and a strategy for the future," Thomas Curran, DMP co-founder and former Bertelsmann chief technology officer, said in a speech at the group's meeting in Osaka, Japan, last week. "Standards governing the interoperability of digital rights management technologies are essential."

Chiariglione's group is one of a number that are calling for interoperability--or at least a more peaceful coexistence--between the various types of software locks that tie content to specific devices while preventing copying.

But if well-intentioned, the group's efforts face high hurdles. Digital rights management tools have proven to be a powerful way for companies to lock consumers into their brands, and interoperability would eliminate that advantage for the market leaders.

Apple, for example, has sold more than 100 million songs from its iTunes online music store, all protected with FairPlay digital rights management. Those songs can only be played on digital music players other than Apple's own iPod if they are burned to a CD and ripped back into an unprotected MP3 format.

Those 100 million songs thus represent a strong commercial impetus for iTunes customers to keep buying iPods. Other manufacturers, such as Sony, have the same interest in keeping proprietary rights management formats separated.

DMP has representatives from large companies, including Panasonic, British Telecom, Telecom Italia and the MPEG LA licensing group, but none of the large digital rights management creators are a part of the group.

The latest call for submissions covers portable devices, which the group sees as a first step toward the larger goal of overall digital rights management interoperability. Any company or organization can submit ideas or technology which conforms with the DMP's requirements.

The group also said it would draft a list of proposed legislative principles that it will submit to various international government bodies as they begin making rules on digital copy protection.