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Monday, January 10, 2011

UltraViolet DRM Looks Unusually Reasonable and Fair

How often do we have a chance to say something positive about DRM? The majority of DRM coverage details some overly restrictive corporate scheme that installs a rootkit or makes a game impossible to play without an Internet connection. By comparison, the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem’s announcements at this year’s CES are surprisingly reasonable. You may have heard about UltraViolet, a DRM system designed with a “buy it once, play it on anything” philosophy.

If UltraViolet works as planned when it launches in mid-2011, movies purchased from participating retailers can be registered with the UltraViolet database and then played on practically anything. The system includes support for six users per family account, with video sharing between each user and a total of 12 devices. And if you don’t have space for a 10 gig HD video file on your smart phone, that’s okay--you’ll be able to stream anything you have the rights to.

There are at least two key criteria digital content must meet to avoid mass piracy. First, buying the media must be affordable and easy--as easy as it is to pirate, if not easier. Second, the DRM can’t be so restrictive that a pirated copy would be far more flexible. Who wants to pay for something gimped when they could get a better version for free? iTunes arguably didn’t fulfill the second qualification, but it made buying music so easy and integral to iPod functionality that it succeeded anyway.

UltraViolet lacks the power of the iTunes name, but it’s going to offer a far more flexible and fair approach to video DRM than the iTunes video marketplace. If you buy a Blu-Ray with UltraViolet support for $15 or $20--about as much as it costs to buy a movie off iTunes--you’ll be able to download that film in a variety of formats or stream it to up to 12 registered devices. Watch your Blu-Ray, stream the movie to your set-top box, download a 720p version for your laptop--it sounds almost as good as being DRM free. Almost.

Many, many big name companies--from studios like Paramount and NBC to electronics giants like Samsung and Sony--are on board with UltraViolet. Apple and Disney are not. UltraViolet digital downloads and pack-ins for Blu-Rays and DVDs (which already often include digital download codes) should be coming in mid-2011, with a variety of UltraViolet apps showing up later in the year. Until then, managing an UltraViolet library will be done online. DECE plans to expand into UltraViolet products in 2012.

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