Tech Industry

Tech powers seek antipiracy accord

Group hopes to end the morass of copy-protection technologies that has rendered much digital content and hardware incompatible.

A consortium of technology companies hopes to create a common antipiracy language, ending the Babel of copy-proofing technologies that has rendered much digital content and hardware incompatible.

The Coral Consortium, to be announced Monday, will initially draw on support from giants such as Hewlett-Packard, Matsushita Electric Industrial, Philips Electronics, Samsung Electronics, Sony and Twentieth Century Fox, along with digital rights management (DRM) company InterTrust Technologies.

The problem the group is tackling is the one familiar to anyone who owns Apple Computer's iPod music player and has been unable to play music purchased from an online music store operated by Napster, Microsoft or another Apple rival. DRM software that protects content such as music, movies and video games is proprietary, and many different companies now produce incompatible varieties.

Participants say Coral will be aimed at creating a set of technology specifications that will let different kinds of copy protection be translated into other varieties.

"This is a problem that has gotten worse as more people have deployed DRM, not better," said Talal Shamoon, chief executive officer of InterTrust, which was purchased in 2002 by a consortium that included Philips and Sony. "The goal here is to try to figure out a way how to network DRM systems together and let people build their own DRMs."

The question of interoperability among different companies' antipiracy technologies has become increasingly important--and sometimes bitter--in the past year.

While multiple, incompatible flavors of rights-management technology have existed for years, the release of Apple?s iTunes music store and the stellar sales of the company's iPod finally put the question on the front burner. Many companies, including Microsoft, rushed to create their own versions of an online downloadable-music store. But because Apple has declined to license its own "FairPlay" rights-management technology to anyone, no rival is officially able to sell songs that play on the iPod.

RealNetworks has been a lone exception, creating its own version of Apple?s technology without permission and advertising itself as the only non-Apple iPod-compatible digital download store. Apple has protested vigorously, even threatening legal action.

Content owners, including record labels and movie studios, have been pushing hard behind the scenes for interoperability. They like the idea of industry-wide standards such as the DVD or CD, which allow one product to be played on hardware produced by any manufacturer.

Other groups have pushed for interoperability as well. A project headed by Leonardo Chiariglione, founder of Moving Pictures Experts Group, has been working since last summer to find an interoperability standard.

Still, neither group includes Apple or Microsoft, the two most prominent makers of copy-protection technology for consumers.