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My First Blog on Marlin Community

Hello World!

The future of NAS

It is no secret that the NAS market is robust and growing. However, what do consumers think they're getting when they buy a few terabytes of storage? I've read many articles on this topic, and projections I've read recently indicate that there will be somewhere between 27GB and 65GB of storage in the average consumer's house by 2014, and growing thereafter. Most things I've seen state that this storage will be used for a combination of consumer generated content and commercial content.

Regarding the commercial content side of that prediction, inasmuch as there is no legitimate distribution channel for video content that does not include content protection, either conditional access or DRM, how can that NAS fulfill the consumer expectation of assembling an in-home video library that includes commercial content?

The answer is DRM, deployed in a manner that does not interfere with the consumer experience. Fortunately, there is no shortage of technologies available that address all aspects of what that 2014 home server needs to do, and DRM is no exception.

The Marlin DRM technology provides a Hollywood-approved means of collecting, distributing and taking on-the-go all manner of commercial entertainment content. Now is the time for the storage industry to realize its destiny by embracing, adopting and deploying the Marlin technology, together with the right collection of other technologies, to provide a rich consumer experience in interacting with the content they are expecting.

What does it mean for DRM to be "transparent"

DRM is a technology that protects content. But contrary to what some believe, DRM does not have to affect the experience of paying for a movie and watching it.

As far as property protection goes, DRM is just one of many technologies in common use today. Consider, for example, the experience of buying or renting a DVD. You make your selection, carry it to the cash register, pay for it and walk out. Although this is nothing remarkable, there are a number of security measures that you sail through in that scenario. For example, there was likely a security device attached to or integrated into the packaging. This was either removed at the point of sale, or de-activated in one of several ways. If you follow the normal check out process, you never notice it, but If you instead just walk out the door and bypass the cash register, you would most assuredly trigger a security system that would very much get in your way. Security tags are a non-intrusive security technology that is transparent to those that follow the societal norm of paying for what you get.

DRM can be just as transparent as the security tag on a DVD. In the age of electronic distribution, you should be able to make your selection, pay for it, and watch your movie. No problem, nothing to notice. The Internet age provides the means for consumers to acquire and collect content from any number of sources, and DRM provides the technology which enables you to only pay for movies you watch, regardless of how you got them. Certainly more convenient than running to the store to find that one last copy on the store shelf (or not). The Internet age provides the promise of no more “sold out” situations. What shouldn’t change in the Internet age is the cash register experience. You pay for what you watch. Nothing new there.

The business of selling and delivering movies online is growing considerably. Stepping up to this growing business, the various players, including the Hollywood studios, online retailers and consumer device manufacturers, are building a commercial ecosystem by which consumers can shop for content, pay for it and watch it without ever knowing that protection systems are in place.

Introduction

My name is Scott Smyers. I am special adviser to the Marlin Founders working in the role of business development for the Marlin DRM technology.

I have been active in the area of content distribution and protection, starting in 1997 when I chaired a discussion group under the Content Protection Technical Working Group, to deliver a link protection system that would protect content as if flows over a home network. The resulting technology was called DTCP, and it is very much alive and well today.

After that I helped UPnP become an open standards body, and during that process I helped form the Digital Living Network Alliance, in which I served as President and Chairman of the Board for 7 years. I also helped to form the Marlin Developer Community to develop and deliver content protection technologies essential for digital commerce around commercial entertainment content.

I will be posting blogs on this site that explore different areas of DRM, online commerce, consumer experience and other matters related to content and content protection. Please enjoy your reading. Your comments are always welcome, either to the blog itself, or to me directly at:

scott@sunrisedigitalstrategies.com

A test blog

This is a test blog.

Does the world need DRM?

Does the world need DRM?

This is a polarizing question, with strong opinions on either side. But what I’d like to do here is look at what DRM is and what its goals are, then work backward and explore whether or not the goals are worthy, and finally, ask if DRM is the best path to realizing those goals.

Simply put, DRM is a technology that allows access to a movie according to the rules that apply to what a consumer has paid for. For example, if a consumer rents a movie for a 48 hour period, then just as in the days of the video rental store, DRM assures that the consumer can watch the movie according to those rules. Similarly, if a consumer buys a movie, DRM assures that the consumer can watch that movie on all the devices he or she owns, and so on.

Therefore, the goal of DRM is to provide a content protection framework into which content owners can publish their content in a manner that allows playback according to the offer that a consumer pays for. The idea of paying for what you get, and getting what you pay for is long entrenched in the minds of consumers and of content owners alike. For example, if a consumer buys a ticket to a theatrical showing of a movie, that doesn’t mean they get a DVD, unless that’s the offer (i.e., watch the movie and take home a “free” DVD). Similarly, if a consumer goes to a video rental store and rents something, they get a copy of the movie for some prescribed period of time. If they keep the disc beyond that time, they pay more. Now we have the Internet, which is changing the landscape, and DRM is there to provide content owners with a rich set of tools by which they can not only offer the purchase and rental options that consumers are used to, they can also innovate and offer compelling new experiences not previously possible.

Now we ask the question: Is DRM the best way for content owners to innovate in the area of content publication and distribution? Obviously, the only alternative to DRM is no content protection, so let’s ask ourselves if movie publication and distribution without any content protection is a way that the business of making movies can be sustained. To answer this question, consider the history of the music recording business, where digital publication of music never really had any form of content protection at all. It is already well documented that the mass market as a whole, and even well meaning individual consumers, do not always pay for what they get when it comes to music. This despite the fact that such consumers are acquiring and listening to as much music as in the pre-digital age. What we know is that the convenience of copying and distributing music to friends and neighbors is far too simple to support the traditional music business, and the music industry continues to struggle to find new ways of funding themselves. With this history lesson in mind and looking at what’s happening today, it’s hard to say that consumers are behaving any differently with movies, now that copying and distributing movies over the Internet is both convenient and common.

While opinions will always vary, I think it’s easy to conclude that some form of content protection is critically important in this new era of Internet experimentation. This is the purpose and the motivation for the creation and adoption of DRM technologies. In short, DRM is enabling innovation in the content distribution space, especially as it relates to the growing area of Internet distribution. DRM is not only necessary, it is adding value to consumers’ lives by supporting new and compelling content offers that were previously not available.

DRM and eBooks

DRM and eBooks

As the eBooks business continues to expand, it’s remarkable to see how it is rushing to provide an ever expanding breadth of reading material available on terms that were developed during the centuries-long history of paper book publishing. Witness this recent announcement from Amazon:

http://phx.corporate-ir.net/phoenix.zhtml?c=176060&p=irol-newsArticle&ID=1552678&highlight=

Now library lending is available on your kindle, as it already is on other platforms. What’s remarkable is that this move to digital is not negatively affecting the author’s rights under copyright or the business of writing and publishing in general. The copyright holder can set the number of copies of a book that can be checked out at one time, just as they could by limiting the number of physical books in the library’s stock. But the copyright holder can also, if it chooses to, offer to sell the book, so rather than “returning” it to the library, you can pay for it and keep it, and automatically, your “copy” of the virtual library book is again available for lending to others. Late fees do not apply because the book simply stops being readable when the time limit is exceeded, and again, the virtual book becomes available for the library to lend it to others.

I expect this will be very well received by the eBook reading public because it makes eBooks available in a manner that is straightforward, very familiar to the reading public at large, and well regarded as completely fair and equitable to the institution of the library, the original author, and most of all, the reader.

None of this would be possible if the enforcement practices for paper books, now afforded by nasty-grams and late fees, was no longer available in the eBook space. The new technology that closes this gap between paper books and eBooks is DRM.

DRM is capable of protecting eBooks in any number of different business models. The existing models of purchase, lending library and others are now well in place, and the book industry remains healthy as the transition to eBooks continues. But now with DRM comes the possibility to make new offers to consumers of e-reading material. The sky is the limit and we have only just begun.

Report from Digital Hollywood

Report from Digital Hollywood

Last week was the Digital Hollywood spring forum held this time in the Ritz Carlton in Marina del Rey, California. As you might expect from Digital Hollywood there was certainly a lot of talk about content distribution over the Internet, and to augment that discussion I hosted a panel session on Digital Rights Management.

On my panel were:

Brad Hunt, President, Digital Media Directions, LLC Wendy Aylsworth, SVP of Technology, Warner Bros. Greg Gewickey, Vice President, Technology Strategy, Deluxe Albhy Galuten, VP, Digital Media Strategy, Sony Network

The panel focused on DRM technology itself and its acceptance (or not) by consumers, and it also considered the content offers available today and consumers’ acceptance of them. The panel was very well attended, with standing room only.

In opening remarks, Wendy explained from Warner Brother’s perspective that while DRM has been a topic for the last 10 years, it remains the case that DRM is a necessity for digital distribution, but it has to be used to deliver offers to consumers that they value. Unfortunately, developing such compelling offers is still very much a work in progress, and in that light, Warner Brothers is doing a lot of experiments to see what consumers like. Things such as digital copies available since 2007, managed copy from Blu-ray disks, the recently announced “Content Everywhere” based on DECE, Facebook and premium VoD, available just 60 days after theatrical release. My editorial comment here is that this experimentation is both welcome and necessary to figure out what consumers are willing to pay money for, and I applaud Warner Brothers in taking this leading position in the content industry.

In his opening remarks, Greg offered that DRM can be frustrating, but it is nonetheless necessary. It’s important for consumers and companies all along the digital distribution chain to appreciate laws and content rights in order for new businesses to emerge and grow.

Albhy used his time to explain that content creation and distribution is not the same around the world. In England, for example, the government funds the BBC to create content and distribute it globally. As long as government spending on content creation continues, piracy has little impact on content creation or availability. Albhy went on to explain that DRM technology supports the business of content creation, giving content creators and content owners the tools to monetize their intellectual property and hold at bay the negative impact that piracy has on that business.

At one point during the discussion, Wendy was inspired to ask the audience the fundamental question of what consumers think of DRM. There were many enthusiastic responses, not all of them positive. Summarizing the bulk of responses causes me to conclude that the audience sense is that if consumers are not hindered in doing what they want to do when they buy, rent or subscribe to content, then DRM is not an issue. One respondent went so far as to say that as long as he’s able to find the offer he likes, he’s not only willing to pay for it, he actually appreciates that DRM is there to protect his investment and not allow others to pirate what he paid for.

However, one particularly engaged audience member described a content offer for a live sporting event that allowed him to record the event, but did not allow him to watch it more than 30 minutes delayed. This particularly irked him because his intention was to watch the event at some later time (much more than 30 minutes later) when he returned to his house. This led to some lively discussion, but the bottom line is that DRM was invoked to protect content in an offering that did not meet the expectations of this particular consumer. In the end, I conclude that DRM is often the scapegoat for content offers that consumers do not like or appreciate. One participant said it very plainly – blaming DRM for protecting content is like blaming the police for the fact that food must be paid for before carrying it out of the supermarket.

The industry discussion on DRM will continue for the foreseeable future, and longer, but my conclusion after this memorable panel is that DRM is here to stay, and the onus is on content owners and others utilizing this powerful technology to make sure they are offering compelling experiences to consumers, the people with the money.

Music and content protection

What is the role of content protection in the music industry?

When the music industry first transitioned to digital publishing with the CD, content protection was not used as part of the format. Even today, much of the music published remains without content protection. Since the introduction of the CD, technology has made the creation of musical recordings, including recording, mixing and mastering, much less expensive. That same technology has made the distribution and storage of music so inexpensive that consumers are now storing huge collections of music in their homes and transmitting it at will to friends and strangers, what is euphemistically called “sharing”. As a result, only a small portion of the music contained in an average consumer’s library has actually been paid for by that consumer. This has caused the music industry to think about how they must evolve the business. Whatever the details, the resulting business has to be attractive to consumers, it must be deemed fair, the music community has to view it collectively as “cool”, something you just have to have and, moreover, it has to generate sufficient revenue.

There are ways to provide new experiences that go way beyond the 99 cents per song business model, and experiments are being tried on a regular basis. One of the more straight-forward of these is musical subscription. Musical subscription allows consumers to listen to anything contained in an enormous library, even download it, stream it around the home or copy it to a portable music player to take on the road, all for a monthly fee. This has shown to be popular with those who’ve tried it, adding convenience, selection and choice. It’s even considered cool by some, although awareness of music subscription options is low, and adoption regrettably slow. Nonetheless, subscribers to music services are proving to be loyal, showing that this is something they’re willing to pay for.

At the bottom of subscription is DRM. DRM protects the content and renders it playable for as long as the owner pays for the subscription service. It does not get in the way of consumers at all. But if the subscription fee is not paid, through a mechanism that is specific to each DRM system that supports it, the content can be made unplayable. Kind of cool.

Given what a great deal musical subscriptions are, they could take hold in a big way, and supporting it, then as now, DRM is increasingly deployed in this relatively new role of protecting music.