September 30, 2003 1:01 PM PDT

MPEG founder seeks copy-protection accord

A bevy of digital-media experts, led by the founder of the group that created the widespread MPEG set of media standards, launched an international forum Tuesday that's aimed at standardizing digital media and copy protection technologies.

The new Switzerland-based forum, dubbed the Digital Media Project, is aimed at ending what members say has been a technological civil war that has badly hampered the spread of digital media content and technologies.

With Moving Picture Experts Group founder and erstwhile Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI) Executive Director Leonardo Chiariglione at its head, the group plans to produce a set of recommendations, largely focused on existing technologies, that bring content protection plans into the digital mainstream. The group has no official power to enforce its decisions but hopes weary figures from industry and from users' communities will nevertheless get involved and follow the group's lead.

"We need to have the two communities working together," Chiariglione said. "Otherwise, most of what we have been doing (with MPEG and other digital media standards bodies) in the last few years becomes meaningless."

The Digital Media Project joins a long line of efforts that are aimed at boosting digital media businesses by settling on content protection standards. Some of these have been very successful; the efforts of the cross-industry working group responsible for DVD specifications helped jump-start the fastest-growing consumer media technology in history, for example.

Others have been less successful, and Chiariglione has been privy to several of these efforts despite his overwhelming success with the MPEG group. Most notably, the SDMI effort that was aimed at protecting music against digital piracy collapsed two years ago under the weight of well-publicized disagreements between record companies, consumer electronics manufacturers and consumers.

The new group is somewhat less ambitious than that earlier effort, Chiariglione said. The Digital Media Project's goal is not to tell companies how to write their own content-protection technologies--only to ensure that various content management schemes can work with one another and with the widest possible array of devices and media players, he said. At the same time, users' expectations about what they can do with content--from excerpting texts for academic use to making personal copies of CDs--must be respected, he said.

Others in the digital rights management community say Chiariglione may be able to create the groundswell for open content protection standards. But it will be a difficult task.

"He's the grand provocateur, and he's been successful in getting people in a room to have a dialogue," said Talal Shamoon, chief executive of InterTrust Technologies, a company that owns digital rights management patents. "He's a good builder of bandwagons. But whether he likes it or not, the deployment of standards is in the hands of private companies."

The Digital Media Project released a "manifesto" Tuesday that outlines its goals, and the group will spend the next three months honing those ideas into a more detailed work plan. Chiariglione said he expected the group to take about two years to reach final recommendations on a series of technical and policy questions.

 

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