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Panel Says DRM Must Enhance Rather Than Restrict Content

20 Oct, 2009 By: Billy Gil

Users expect content to be online and will acquire it through whatever means they can if it isn't, said Jack Lacy, SVP of standards and community initiative for Intertrust, at a DRM panel at Digital Hollywood Los Angeles Oct. 20.

Lacy pointed out that illegitimate free sites are not always safe, intuitive or have high quality, while legitimate free sites are often restricted in terms of content and also often have lower-quality versions and non-intuitive designs.

He said new digital rights management (DRM) models have to consider social community, devices and revenue models. He said it no longer makes sense to have closed systems a la the 99-cent iTunes song downloads, and that terms should enhance, not diminish, the value of content. He said DRM should be an enabler, not a roadblock, to using content.

Lacy said DRM should define authorized devices that can play content, and that it should allow content to move from one user's device to another, provided they both have paid for that content.

Alan Bell, former CTO of Paramount, admitted DRM is “bad for consumers.” But he said it was necessary to establish stable business models, likening digital movie rentals' DRM to physical rental stores holding a renter’s credit card information, so that if a renter doesn’t return a disc, the merchant can charge it on the card as a purchase.

Bell said when home video came out, only a few companies needed to agree upon format standards. Now, it is much more complicated, he said. If there is a problem and DRM does not match a device, people may obtain video illegally. He also said the price point of movies is lowering, where movies used to hold value through premiering on television.

Meanwhile, Rajan Santami, director, business development, Digimarc, said methods of DRM that have succeeded in the past have been those that grew the market. He said the old-school model was based on controlling distribution and negotiating the best possible deal, but in the digital world, content providers tried to control how consumers received content, which didn't work.

Santami said the notion of digital watermarking had been thought of as a “belt and suspenders” approach to keeping tabs on downloads.

“When you're losing weight, sometimes nothing can keep the pants up,” Santami said.

He said with physical content declining and digital content perceived to be free, digital watermarking can enable copyright communication and authentication (such as AACS for Blu-ray), enhance security (such as with movie screeners and leaked music), and grant access to additional data (such as tracking audience numbers) and e-commerce opportunities across devices and networks. He said it should not restrict the user experience but rather reduce casual piracy and allow content holders to determine who is using their content and how to better monetize that.

Moderator James M. Burger, attorney at law for Dow Lohnes, said it remains to be seen how changes in DRM will effect the video market. He noted that despite Kaleidescape's and RealDVD's court losses that prevented their DVD-ripping software from being sold, those cases are in the appeals process, and in the meantime other software can be purchased online to rip DVD and Blu-ray, with keys to decoding AACS and other protections available online. He said new DRM efforts are a way to help create a new business model for digital in the wake of waning DVD sales.

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