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Finding XrML a home

ContentGuard, a provider of digital rights management technology, has taken the first steps to promoting its digital rights management language.

SAN FRANCISCO --ContentGuard, a provider of digital rights management technology, last week took the first steps to promoting its digital rights management language since reorganizing its business in August.

Executives also reiterated promises to move development of the extensible rights markup language (XrML) to a neutral standards body, just as one potential habitat, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), is considering whether to create standards based on proprietary technology.

OverDrive, well known in e-book circles for its hosting, content conversion and DRM services for e-book retailers, agreed to fortify its offerings with ContentGuard's XrML rights language. The two companies will incorporate XrML into tools used in the authoring and conversion process and will jointly market the updated offerings to electronic publishers.

The news comes after ContentGuard laid off workers and exited the DRM services business in August to focus on promoting XrML. Executives say the transition to the new business model is now complete, save for efforts to move its previous customers over to new service providers.

But partnering with OverDrive, which bills itself as one of Microsoft's strategic partners in the e-book business, won't go very far toward proving that momentum is building behind the effort. For one thing, Microsoft owns a minority stake in ContentGuard. Mainly, though, ContentGuard has been around in electronic publishing for some time, and it still needs to show it can get other vertical markets interested in the technology's promise.

That's because digital content flows across all devices and across the boundaries of the publishing, music, television and movie industries. XrML and other proposed rights languages are needed to help these different industries interact with each other and to let companies more easily use different content protection mechanisms. However, these different industries want to have input into the evolution of the technology. ContentGuard gave an update on how it will approach the issue.

"We will make good on our promise to put governance of XrML in a more publicly visible process, hopefully by selecting somebody who already has a standards apparatus and whose mission of governance is to create widespread applicability," said Mike Miron, ContentGuard's co-chairman and CEO, in an interview with the451.

As first reported by the451, ContentGuard had considered creating a forum on its own that would serve as a quasi-independent XrML standards body.

"We had toyed with idea of setting up our own standards body, but it's a lot of work, and there's plenty out there that work well. I'd rather have one that's recognized and established to take over governance (of XrML). That's easier all the way around."

An organization such as W3C might create a subgroup to look after rights expression issues, Miron thinks. Others, such as MPEG-21, have had a clear focus on incorporating DRM from the start, and could be another likely home for a standard.

Interestingly, the W3C is considering a controversial proposal to allow, for the first time, proprietary technologies to become a part of the Web's standards if the technology is licensed on "reasonable and nondiscriminatory terms."

Technology that comprises the backbone of Internet communications is now licensed on a "royalty-free" basis. Adoption of the Patent Policy Framework, as it's being called, could pave the way for XrML's wider adoption into Web standards.

Regardless of the proposal's future, other questions arise. There are those who believe that XrML may be too comprehensive in scope and ambition. Real Networks thinks it would be more appropriate to focus on developing a rights language for streaming media, as is the case with its XMCL proposal.

In the publishing industry, the communications standards XMP, PRISM and ICE all appear to overlap to some extent in the area of tracking rights and permissions, and thus overlap somewhat with XrML. Because all the efforts utilize XML, some suggest that there is no need for an overarching rights language because XML offers other ways to pass information along.

"People always tend to try and see if there's another way," Miron observes. His task: to convince players in a variety of industries to "move on to other problems that have less of an answer."


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