Five tech giants team for new digital rights solution

A global consortium of technology companies is laying the groundwork for a campaign to convince Hollywood and the recording industry that it has finally found an acceptable way not to just limit the copying of music CDs and movie DVDs, but to protect digital content in the fast-growing market for hand-held devices capable of playing music, video clips and computer games while wirelessly connected to the Internet.

The consortium—known as Project Hudson and made up of Intel, Nokia, Samsung, Toshiba and Matshushita—plans to announce its new approach, based on using the Internet, in early February to precede the Grammy music awards and the movie industry’s Academy Awards ceremony, the New York Times reported.

Unlike the system used to protect DVD content, an Internet-based wireless protection plan could permit users of hand-held devices to share movie or music files on a limited basis or permit files to be shared for promotional purposes.

For the entertainment industry, the Internet has often been viewed primarily as a threat because it makes it possible to transmit copies of just about any original work that can be converted to digital code to just about anyone in the world. But it is increasingly being viewed more positively by some entertainment strategists, who recognize that the Internet’s nature as an “always on” medium makes it possible to refine new “digital leashes” to help ensure that copy protection plans are not subverted, the Times reported.

Project Hudson pits the new group against other copy protection systems being advanced by Sony and Royal Philips Electronics, Apple Computer, RealNetworks and others. But the most important target is probably Microsoft. “They would say they are anti-Microsoft forces,” a recording industry executive close to the companies said. “The alternative is to sign up with Redmond.”

Microsoft, based in Redmond, Wash., is promoting its own plan, known as the Windows Media Rights Manager. But it has been held back, in part, by a legal challenge over infringing on software patents belonging to a smaller American company, Intertrust, which was acquired in late 2002 by Sony and Philips. Fears in Hollywood and the recording industry over Microsoft’s potential control had also stalled the software maker’s thrust into the world of digital media.

Balancing the proliferation of competing digital information protection plans is a growing realization that the industry needs common standards. That failure is hampering the growth of digital technologies, said Leonardo Chiariglione, an Italian electrical engineer who founded the group that developed the original MP3 digital audio compression standard widely used to play music on computers and share it across networks.

“Content should be as transparent as it is today with MP3,” Chiariglione said. “It should be movable anywhere and still be protected. If we stay with digital islands people have a legitimate excuse to piracy.’’

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