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Marlin Hopes To Tame Wild Kingdom Of DRMs

Sunnyvale, Calif. – No, not Marlin Perkins of TV fame, but four major consumer electronics companies have banded together to found the Marlin Joint Development Association

Matsushita, Philips, Sony, Samsung, and Intertrust, which is partly owned by Sony and Philips, will work together to create a standard digital rights management (DRM) specification that would let consumers swap music and video among licensed devices regardless of whether the content was downloaded over the Internet, broadcast by TV stations, or downloaded by cellphone.

The group contends its plan would encourage content providers to make music and video available through multiple distribution modes, from broadcast TV to the Internet. Content providers, service providers such as cable companies, and hardware makers would have to adopt the technology for it to achieve the group’s goals.

Once the high-profile founding members deploy the technology, they hope other companies will follow them to create a de facto industry standard. “This creates a DRM for the founders and for anyone who wants to feed their devices,” said Intertrust CEO Talal Shamoon. The DRM could be incorporated in settop boxes, DVRs, PCs, portable media players (PMPs), and HDD music portables, he noted.

Marlin said it hopes to unify the “often conflicting proprietary DRM technologies and differing standards for each distribution mode” with a Marlin DRM that will be available to the content and hardware industries sometime in the summer. Multiple incompatible DRMs — like those used for Apple, Sony and Windows Media Audio music-download sites— frustrate consumers looking to move content from one device to another, the group said. Movies downloaded from the Internet to a PC, the group also noted, won’t play on a portable media player (PMP) unless the DRMs match.

The Marlin initiative doesn’t overlap with the Coral initiative in which about 16 CE and content companies have banded together to enable multiple existing and future DRMs communicate with one another, Shamoon said.

In fact, “Marlin will use coral to communicate with non-Marlin DRMs,” said Jack Lacey, Intertrust’s senior VP of standards and president/chairman of the Coral Consortium.

Coral, however, isn’t a complete solution for full DRM interoperability, he said. Nor does it offer the universality of a single widely adopted DRM standard, which Marlin hopes to be. For one thing, Lacey said, Coral doesn’t change existing DRMs’ capabilities. For Coral-equipped DRMs to achieve full interoperability, he explained, one DRM’s business model and usage rules would have to support the other’s business model and rules. For example, music downloaded with a DRM that supports a time-out function could not be played through a device whose DRM technology doesn’t allow for song to time out.

Both technologies also have another limitation: Neither Coral nor Marlin specifies a standard audio or video codec, or format, so for full interoperability among downloaded or streamed content, content might have to be transcoded from one format to another. Coral hopes to achieve that goal with technology that not only enables DRMs to “exchange their credentials and policies” but also “builds a service-oriented infrastructure on the web or on a local network” to transcode formats, Lacey said. In the home network, the transcoding technology could be built into a standalone box or in any networked products.

Initial Coral specs are expected to be available in the first half.

Coral’s 16 members include all Marlin members, Hewlett-Packard, Pioneer, Sun, Seagate, and content companies such as Sony BMG, 20th Century Fox Film, and Universal Music Group.