ContentGuard: Discontent Breeds Initiative

If you need something done right, sometimes you have to do it yourself. Such was the case for ContentGuard and their work in the DRM space. In order to develop robust DRM, they decided that they needed to begin by helping to establish industry standards.

ContentGuard, which originated as part of the Xerox Corporation until they were spun off in 2000, had three business focuses: licensing patented technology, developing software tools, and helping the industry to develop standards to support DRM. In late 2001, the company shifted their focus from solutions toward standards and licensing. Recently, with the litigious approach being taken by the recording industry, DRM has again come to the forefront, and ContentGuard sees that this may help promote the development of standards that will help all facets of DRM development—from entertainment to B2B.

"The DRM market is still in its infancy," according to ContentGuard's vice president of business development, Bruce Gitlin, and, as such, there is little interoperability because of a lack of standards, which ContentGuard sees as severely hampering the industry. More specifically, Gitlin identifies four standards that need to be established: format, metadata, digital rights language, and security. "Given our expertise, this is where we felt we could have the most impact," Gitlin says.

So how does ContentGuard plan to help the DRM industry (and themselves) in this process? By helping develop "interoperable standards that allow companies to create components that work together," according to Gitlin. "The standards issue urgently needs to be addressed, and we can do something about that. We are not doing this for the greater good of humankind," he admits. But he thinks that, once standards have been established, it will provide greater opportunities for ContentGuard as well as other vendors.

ContentGuard donated the XrML language to OASIS, MPEG, OEBF, and others; each group has made considerable progress, although MPEG is the furthest along with balloting underway for establishing the final standards for a rights expression language. "We have made some progress there and we think that will help the industry," says Gitlin. "It allows for a wide range of business models, which helps the industry as a whole."

In the same vein, ContentGuard is a founding member of the standards group the Content Reference Forum (CRF), along with Microsoft, ARM, and Macrovision. The group came together because, "P2P is a reality and there is no good way to deal with rights," says Gitlin. "This can be a real opportunity instead of a problem," he continues. "You can turn your consumers into your salespeople." ContentGuard sees the CRF as existing in front of DRM; the CRF solves a part of the problem before DRM takes over when the "click here" option is presented to the consumer.

The CRF decided that instead of allowing consumers to be the distributors of content, a reference should be created that describes the content and a second reference that describes the consumer. When a consumer sends an abstract reference to someone else, via an email, instant message, or other delivery mechanism, the receiver clicks that they are interested in that content—a song for example. The reference from the sender and the reference about the receiver are both sent to a server that sorts out all of the rights information. The receiver is then sent the song, or a storefront from which the song can be purchased, or some other appropriate means of obtaining the content.

This contract expression language has been designed to translate a paper contract into machine-readable text so that the digital rights and conditions can travel along with the content. In the future, Gitlin predicts that the consumer will have choices surrounding the consumption of content and will be allowed to decide for themselves whether they want to stream something, email it, own it forever, or own it temporarily. For this to happen, though, standards must be in place. "The consumer is going to get what they want," Gitlin says, but "if you make it too hard, you are driving the consumer away or you are driving them to obtain it illegally."

The first draft of specifications, titled CRF Baseline Profile v1.0, was drafted and released in December of 2003. The next step is the development of a working example, which will be ready for feedback in the first half of 2004 and will likely be made accessible on the CRF Web site or presented to the companies involved at a conference or trade show. From there, ContentGuard hopes that the DRM space will be blown wide open and that they are poised to reap the benefits.