In the first part of the article (Jeges 2005) we presented a brief overview of DMP and its approach. The proposed Interoperable DRM Platform (IDP), as the main outcome of DMP’s efforts, is a toolkit, i.e. a set of standardised DRM tools based on "primitive functions" derived from existing digital media systems by investigating several selected use cases. In addition DMP has analysed and listed a large number of Traditional Rights and Usages (TRUs) expressing present users’ expectations about how digital media should behave and be usable. These TRUs serve DMP as a yardstick and a means against derailing.

In this article we aim to discuss the chances of DMP's Interoperable DRM Platform to become accepted and widely used, taking into account the present state of technologies and markets related to DRM (relying on the publicly available information). Among others we are seeking the answer to the question whether it makes sense to create an open DRM standard without the support of the current big players.

The DRM business
Today the DRM market, focussing on technology providers for the music industry, is extremely polarized: there is Apple with its own FairPlay DRM technology, licensed to no other company than Motorola, and there is Microsoft with its Windows Media DRM technology licensed to everyone else. Even RealNetworks, the former inventor of Helix DRM, has converted their music store to use Microsoft’s technology, only Sony is trying to gain ground with its proprietary ATRAC format. On the MP3 player market iPods are estimated to have a 30 percent market share, Sony’s devices close to nil (until recently Sony players had not supported unprotected formats, like MP3!), and everyone else uses Microsoft DRM to be compatible with most on-line music services. From the providers’ point of view there is no chance to license neither FairPlay nor ATRAC, so one has to go with Microsoft to be compatible.

So for many it may seem as if the DRM game in the music industry was already decided. The founders of DMP, however, think that there is still room left for a new interoperable DRM standard. The project members, we could also say, the supporters of the idea, are mainly educational and research institutes as well as national telecommunications companies – let it be admitted, not really those who drive the market. There are of course also some industrial partners, among them Japanese mammoth CE manufacturers and American technology providers who have not yet committed themselves to any of today’s DRM standards. However, today’s business leaders – both technology and media companies – are missing. This is not to say that today’s leaders will be tomorrow’s winners, but if they were interested, they would have joined DMP, to fight for their interests. On the other hand, it is understandable that they are not among the supporters, because they have already created their solutions, hoping those to become standards.

So the situation today is quite different from the times when e.g. MP3 became a standard, as there was no – or hardly any – alternative solution. We could think of those times as a market without competition. This was very important for the development of digital media, as the single MP3 standard opened the market for on-line music. But today, what are DMP's chances to become the laughing third, overcoming Microsoft and Apple in the standards game? We think that beating the big players is not a must for DMP to succeed. By understanding DMP’s goals and their methodology, it became obvious that IDP is aimed to be an “umbrella standard”, with a loose Interoperable DRM Platform, to form a framework with which others could be, will be and finally and hopefully must be compatible.

Benefits of a loose standard
Till now everyone wanted to ride the growing wave of digital, especially on-line digital music (and later video) distribution, so big companies being first steppers could not wait for a standard to be elaborated. The manufacturers and distributors tried or – better to say – were forced to develop a quick solution to an urgent problem, and thus today we have several independent, and due to the circumstances of their birth, non-interoperable systems.

In order to ensure interoperability and longevity of the standard, DMP’s approach is loose in prescribing, but still all-embracing: they start from the past, examine the present needs, hoping to eventually create a standard that will fit future needs. By defining primitive functions DMP is primarily starting from what can be done with content on digital media, but does not deal in detail with the issue how it can be done: only the information necessary to handle the content, the format of content elements (e.g. metadata, rights, licenses, use data) will be specified. Many technological questions, however, important from the implementation viewpoint, are left open in IDP on purpose. Encryption and compression methods to be used, different media formats and other issues are not specified, leaving the opportunity for competition among different role-players on the market, existing today or appearing in the future. And more, IDP aims not only to work with music or video but also with e-books, images and any kind of content that we can not even think of today.

We see that the hardest goal will be to find the proper balance between looseness and strictness. A standard being too generic means that it can easily become meaningless and empty; even if some or all DRM implementations would comply with it, they could still be incompatible in their essential parts, as a multitude of solutions are left open, and can vary. On the other hand, if a standard is too rigorous, it might turn out not to be future-proof meaning that changing demands in the near future could require newer solutions requiring either new standards, or new versions of the existing ones, which would start the tedious standardization process all over again.

Benefits of an open standard
Who could benefit from an open IDP? It is obvious that consumers are benefiting from compatible devices and services, and from lower prices due to higher competition. Content distributors and device vendors will still have to pay for the DRM solutions they use, however, the price of the DRM inherent in their service and product prices would be less due to a free standard and higher competition without monopolies.

Some might say that for content providers the type of DRM used and occasional incompatibility would not matter, because online vendors would always licence the same amount of content from them – regardless of the used technology. We think, however, that content providers and also creators would also benefit from expected larger sales due to the growth of the on-line markets. Moreover, if a free (e.g. GNU General Public License based) DRM solution, based for example on IDP, existed, everybody could become a “creator”. This could even lead for example to the appearance of new forms of employment agreements, where the rights to the created work (content, programs or documents) remain with the employee.

The only losers of an open standard would be current DRM solution providers, holding monopolies on the market today: if they have to be compatible with new standards, they will loose their monopoly; new solution providers will more easily be able to appear, and this could mean a higher probability for a possible new breakthrough in the world of digital media.

Conflicting interests or common goals
The remaining question is what the motivating force will be that are able to push the current solutions, competing with each other on the market, to become compatible with the IDP? DMP is a not-for-profit organization and their standards will also be free. In principle the common interest in interoperable systems will be shared by all players in the DRM game. But is there any interest like this? Is interoperability really desirable for manufacturers and distributors? We have seen that there would be benefits to some players, but the other opinion is that “incompatibility isn’t an unfortunate side-effect of deficient DRM systems — it’s the goal of DRM” (Felten 2004). We also remember the case of Apple and RealNetworks when the latter created interoperability between the two services (Naraine 2004). The sad fact is that interoperability of DRM platforms is not really the interest of the industry.

Thus in our opinion a possible answer could be the enforcement by governments ensuring interoperable standards. It would be especially salutary, if this could be done by the European Union in the first place. Currently all major DRM providers (licensers) are United States-based and therefore the EU is paying money to them with every Cent we spend for on-line digital media. The benefits for the EU, or any government could be in legally enforcing compatibility and interoperability by mandatory compliance to the standard for every product or service offered on the common market, thus not only serving the needs of the European consumers but also re-opening the market for European players, like newcomers to the DRM technology market, eventually making it to the global market.

We see that the market is moving towards proprietary systems, so in the current situation only governments could enforce interoperability by not allowing non-compatible products (e.g. players) or services (e.g. downloadable music or video) to appear on their markets. We imagine this as the CE sign to be found on all electrical equipment sold in Europe.

If the Interoperable DRM Platform was this mandatory standard, it would have multiple benefits.

  • No company could charge for the standard itself, so it would be entirely free to step on the market with any new player or service. This would increase competitiveness and be a "sledge-hammer" to break the rules of current oligarchs (currently Apple and Microsoft).

  • An interoperable DRM standard would also directly serve the interests of consumers, since they would not have to worry any more about compatibility issues. It is so good to know that an AA battery we buy in the store will fit in every device, and it would be similarly easy if we could be certain that the purchased songs will play in every player today, and will probably do the same in future products.

Bottom line
Either IDP or any new standard dealing with digital media could presumably not become a de-facto standard without a common interest of DRM solution providers. As this common interest does not seam to exist, it is not surprising, that the current big players are not on the list of the members of the Digital Media Project.

We see the chances of success of DMP’s standardisation efforts depending on governmental enforcement, for example on the European internal market. This would be essential for both the market of digital media as a whole, including online music and video markets, and consumers, as interoperability is becoming their elementary need, which can only be ensured by a good standard.


About the authors
The authors are researchers at Budapest University of Technology and Economics in the SEARCH Laboratory. Ernő Jeges’s research areas are mainly focused on biometric security solutions, but he was involved in a number of research activities dealing with IT security and the technology aspects of digital rights. He received an MSc in computer science from BUTE in 1995. Contact: Kristóf Kerényi’s interests include mobile and wireless IT security, as well as technological aspects of DRM. He received an MSc in computer science from BUTE. Contact:

Status: first posted 26/08/05; licensed under Creative Commons