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August 23, 2005

Sun says DRM backing will come

Sun Microsystems Inc's new Open Media Commons initiative is not the kind of initiative that needs loads of corporate backing at launch, but it has been well-received by media companies Sun has talked to, the firm lab chief said yesterday.

By CBR Staff Writer

The company on Monday launched OMC, an open source initiative into which it released DReaM, the basis of a digital rights management architecture Sun hopes will drive interoperability and prevent a few DRM firms putting a tollgate on the internet.

But no other DRM or media firm publicly backed the move, which left some competitors puzzled. Glenn Edens, director of Sun Labs, told ComputerWire it’s more of a community along the lines of an open-source project, rather than an alliance.

I don’t think you would see support in the form of an announcement, he said. But he added: In conversations we’ve had [with media companies] everybody has been very interested in this being successful.

Unlike the Liberty Alliance, which was definitely an alliance of those interested in creating open alternatives to Microsoft authentication technologies, OMC is a community driven development project.

Sun hopes OMC will build and drive adoption of open-source royalty-free software and systems that would help users more easily access their DRM-protected copyrighted works in ways that respect rights as well as restrictions.

Sun is explicitly targeting the wider internet community, not just the big media companies that may or may not ultimately dictate its success.

If the debate is all on the supply side, and not on the consumer demand side, you get a lot of lop-sided solutions, Edens said. If we can move the debate 10 or 20 degrees toward the consumer, we’ll think it’s a success.

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Edens said that the most-deployed DRMs out there right now — which include Apple’s Fairplay and Microsoft’s Windows Media are mostly not compatible with each other and can be confusing for end users.

It’s not clear what rights users have to transfer protected works between devices or make copies. Sun is especially interested in the hundreds of millions of handheld devices it expects will soon prove to be the number one way people access content, Edens said.

He said that software that is ready to be implemented and experimented with could be available within the next nine to 18 months, although he warned that it’s difficult to guess these kinds of things when you’re talking about open-source projects.

Sun chose its own Community Development and Distribution License to release DReaM, the same license it used to release Solaris earlier this year. CDDL is non-viral, allowing it to be mixed with commercial code.

While this may appeal to some in the community, the relatively new CDDL has also come in for criticism from developers and Sun’s competitors who would prefer to get their hands on Sun’s code under the free-for-all of the General Public License.

When you use the GPL its no longer possible to make decisions about your work. It’s like a kind of DRM in itself, Edens said. Through a license like CDDL we can foster more innovation than through the GPL.

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