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IBM prepares lockbox for home networks

The computer giant readies a digital rights management strategy that includes software controls aimed at preventing illegal use of commercial media.

IBM is readying a digital rights management strategy for securing content everywhere from Hollywood to Wall Street.

The initiative, called extensible Content Protection (xCP), involves software that allows media companies to put controls on content distributed to consumers' home networks. The initiative is aimed at preventing illegal use of commercial media. Dick Anderson, the general manger for IBM's Media and Entertainment group, will discuss the project Thursday at a conference to be held at Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society in Cambridge, Mass. IBM is expected to announce its first entertainment industry xCP customer in about a month.

xCP includes encryption software that allows media providers to give consumers the right to, for example, watch a movie on a DVD player and any other xCP-compliant device on that consumer's home network. The software will let media companies protect their intellectual property and be simple enough for consumers to use, according to IBM.

Such safeguards will allow the media and entertainment industry to develop viable business models for content distribution, which at this point are lacking, said Steve Canepa, vice president of strategy for IBM's media and entertainment industry.

"The ground we're trying to get to is to maybe take the focus off rights specifications for control and limitation in what can be done with content and to change the focus to self-enablement and a new user experience," Canepa said.

Although high-profile battles waged by music and movie studios against illicit Internet media downloads generate the most headlines, IBM sees a parallel need for content protection in other industries.

An aerospace manufacturer, for example, would want to distribute engineering plans to its partners electronically with strictly controlled access rights. Also, regulations such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) dictate certain data-protection procedures for medical patients' personal information.

However, because of inadequate digital rights management (DRM) software, companies lose billions of dollars each year in intellectual property in the form of stolen research or customer lists, said Stuart Sager, program director for copy protection and DRM at IBM's software group.

"The need to protect content in the enterprise space is very real," Sager said. "We think that DRM is really going to become very ubiquitous."

IBM will embed DRM capabilities across its software line. The company is now testing a system to add DRM controls to its DB2 Content Manager product and is targeting a final release of the add-on product at some point in 2004.

The DRM features will allow a company to assign access rights to content and track its usage. Customers can tap into the DRM feature, which is written in Java, via Web services programming protocols, but they do not have to change the code of existing applications, Sager said.

IBM will eventually embed its DRM software, called Copy Protection and Enabling, across its entire middleware line, including WebSphere and Tivoli products.

DRM is an important push for software giant Microsoft as well. DRM is a key feature of its Office 2003 desktop application suite and an important part of the company's ongoing security initiative. This week, Microsoft revealed pricing details on its plan for assigning authoring and viewing rights to documents for people using Microsoft Office and Windows Server 2003.

IBM's approach to DRM is broader than Microsoft's, Sager said. IBM is tracking standards for various content types, such as audio files, images or video clips, and the DRM software in Content Manager will support the various formats.

The DRM architecture also allows companies to reuse content in different scenarios. For example, a company could sell an audio file for download both to a mobile phone and to a home network using the xCP software.