Content owners and tech companies to develop uniform media copy-protection standards

A coalition of motion picture and television studios, technology companies, and consumer electronics manufacturers have joined in an effort to develop uniform and interoperable digital copy-protection standards.

The idea is to ensure that digital content — in a copy-protected form — can play freely on a wide range of display and storage devices, over home networks, and on portable players. Under the group’s vision, a consumer could buy a high-definition movie, store it on a PC, watch it on a networked television and transfer it to a mobile device to watch while traveling.

That is, if the content owner allows such freedom. And therein lies a potential problem. The coalition does not necessarily solve philosophical problems of the limits of copy protection and how freely consumers will be allowed to use entertainment content.

The Advanced Access Content System (AACS) License Administrator initiative will develop, promote and license technology based on specifications it is formulating. The members are the Walt Disney, Warner Bros. Studios, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Panasonic (Matsushita Electric), Sony and Toshiba.

The first chore facing the coalition is how to protect the high-definition optical discs that will replace today’s DVDs. Unlike the current CSS copy-protection technology, AACS will allow content owners to set whatever usage rules they wish for those optical discs and other digital media.

This could include such capabilities as allowing consumers to burn a set number of personal-use copies or adding a movie to a computer’s library for showing anywhere on the network, functions that are now barred by today’s digital rights management technologies. On the other hand, it could also prohibit those functions.

The major goal is to overcome the current problems of lack of compatibility between media systems. For example, music purchased from Sony Connect cannot play on Apple’s industry-leading iPod, a situation that makes digital downloads compare poorly to the universal standard of music on a CD.

The AACS coalition said it would have technology specifications and licenses ready later this year. It will provide licenses to all content, technology or consumers electronics companies.

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