Coral consortium considers content control conundrum

5 Oct 2004

Seven of the leading technology and media firms have formed a consortium that hopes to allow different digital rights management (DRM) technologies to work together easily. DRM controls how content such as music or video files are shared between different devices or consumer equipment.

The Coral Consortium intends to create a common technology framework for content, device and service providers, regardless of the DRM technologies they use. Such an open technology framework would offer consumers a “simple and consistent digital entertainment experience”, the group said.

Coral’s seven founder members are Hewlett-Packard, Intertrust Technologies, Philips Electronics, Panasonic, Samsung, Sony and Twentieth Century Fox.

Arriving at a workable industry-wide DRM technology has long been a sticking point. Earlier this year the Digital Living Network Alliance, a group of more than 100 consumer electronics companies, banded together to work on allowing their machines to work more closely together. The companies admitted, however, that they had not managed to agree on standards for protecting digital content from being copied – a demand that is being driven by content owners and media giants rather than consumers.

DRM technology would allow content providers to supply a music or video clip to a customer in a way that could prevent the file from being viewed more than once, for example, or else passed to another device without authorisation or possibly additional payment. A text message, for example, is a format with no DRM as it can be edited by the user and sent to many others.

Complicating the situation further, many of the technologies currently used to protect content and stop it from being copied without authorisation are proprietary to a particular service provider or device. Coral has said it will focus on a new technology layer that will allow existing DRM systems to coexist, so that content developed for one DRM technology can be played on a device that supports another.

Intertrust’s Jack Lacy, who heads the Coral Consortium, said that the classic approach to solving the interoperability problem has either been to use a single proprietary platform for media distribution, or to standardise a common content protection and management technology.

“Consumers typically just want to buy, play, and use content in an intuitive manner and do not want to dwell on differences between esoteric technology features. Coral aims to provide them with such functionality and ease of use,” he said.

Coral plans to develop and standardise a set of specifications focused on interoperability between different DRM technologies. According to Coral, this layer would allow multiple different DRM technologies to coexist unknown to the consumer, who would simply press ‘play’ on their device which would then source appropriately formatted content.

By Gordon Smith