DRM Standards Pave the Way to Custom Content Delivery

Imagine that, for a monthly fee, a cable subsidiary delivers content specifically tuned into your interests. After scrolling through a few pages of the latest John Grisham novel on your ebook reader, you switch on your TV with its Web-enabled set-top box to download David Kelly's (the creator of Alley McBeal) latest show. Sound far-fetched? Well, not according to PricewaterhouseCoopers. They report that digital distribution will help the content industry boost its compound annual growth rate from the current 6.4% to 7.2% over the next several years.

Digital Rights Management standards (DRM) are a significant catalyst—and barrier—for the future of custom content delivery. Essentially, DRM protects ownership/copyright of electronic content by restricting what actions an authorized recipient may take. From a content owner's point of view, the irresistible appeal of DRM is its ability to restrict access according to a set of conditions known as business rules. Files can be programmed to allow, or not allow, anything from copying and sharing to playback on various devices, depending on a given user's license.

However, for the customer, that content needs to be entirely seamless and worthy of paying a fee to use it. ContentGuard, developers of technology products and services for rights management of digital content (along with content owners and technology providers) are busy trying to accurately establish digital distribution standards, which will satisfy the needs of providers and users alike. "Consumer acceptance of digital download and streaming products requires all parties in the content creation, aggregation, distribution, retail and fulfillment channels to fully cooperate," according to Brad Gandee, XrML standards evangelist for ContentGuard. He says, "We need to streamline the processes and find as much common ground that all parties can build upon, which includes standard terminology, protocols, and rights expression language like our creation of XrML."

To promote interoperability, ContentGuard developed a language called XrML (Extensible Right Markup Language) that maps usage conditions to content. Right now, it's supported by companies, such as Microsoft, Adobe Systems, Hewlett-Packard, and Xerox—all of whom are anxious to accomplish standards for DRM.

According to Steve Potash, president of the Open eBook Forum, an international standards body for the digital publishing and eBook marketplace, a standard rights language for DRM is essential. It would, he says, permit the intentions of the content owner for the use or commercial license to the media, to be communicated to the aggregator, DRM system, retail, and end-user. "An author and publisher may want to license the use of their work with restrictions on copying or printing," he says, "these instructions would be included in the rights language that the use of XrML, are expressed in XML according to the XrML specification."

Since XrML is based on XML, already widely recognized as the standard for ecommerce, XrML can be used for software systems, ASP services, and others "handling" the digital content to understand what rights are associated with the product.

Chris Barlas, CEO of a digital rights consulting firm called Rightscom, believes that the future of DRM standards will compare to that of the World Wide Web Consortium, the standards body that successfully transformed the Internet with hypertext transfer protocol. "Standard bodies like the Web established a focal point for customers," says Barlas, "DRM standards will do the same thing, giving customers a common platform for them to receive their specific content."