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Isn't 'Open DRM' A Contradiction?

Open DRM, a contradiction? Not according to the Marlin Developer Community. This consortium claims it's created an "open" digital rights management scheme, one that also allows a degree of sharing and movement of content. But under it all isn't DRM still just ... DRM?

"Open DRM", a contradiction? Not according to the Marlin Developer Community. This consortium claims it's created an "open" digital rights management scheme, one that also allows a degree of sharing and movement of content. But under it all isn't DRM still just ... DRM?

Marlin -- formed as an alliance between Intertrust Technologies, Panasonic, Philips, Samsung, and Sony -- is an attempt to address some of the common complaints about DRM while at the same time still providing an ecosphere (I hate that word, come to think of it) for protecting whatever's wrapped in it. I use the term attempt, because the whole thing hasn't yet received the kind of broad usage that would determine how well it holds up in the real world.

The blurbs sure sound nice, though:


Unlike many other DRM systems, Marlin

  • gives users the freedom to exchange and transfer content directly between any two devices that they own (without the need to synchronize licenses)
  • allows multiple family members to share their devices and content
  • allows temporary use of an individual's content on "guest" devices (those owned by other individuals)

Marlin's unique architecture permits this degree of user flexibility while still protecting content owners' interests and guarding against widespread copyright abuse and piracy.

While Marlin have published the details of its system on the Web, you can't just download code samples Sourceforge-style, though -- you have to create an account (unless your company's already a partner) to get access to the SDKs or the reference implementations. It doesn't seem to be an open project the way something like Apache or Firefox is. Not that I would have expected a community of that kind to create a DRM project, since the very philosophy of DRM's pretty antithetical to what a lot of open source stands for.

Is there room for a community-engineered DRM solution at all? Sure there is -- I'd be foolish if I claimed that DRM had no utility whatsoever. A corporation that wants to prevent data leaks, for instance, would have a clear need for something of this ilk.

But for regular consumers, DRM's never proven itself to be anything but a total hassle, and I speak from personal experience. I tried -- tried -- to use Sony's DRM-protected music service for a while and just gave up in despair. Too glitchy, too many complications, and when eMusic and eventually Amazon.com also were available and offered many of the same things without idiotic protection mechanisms, it wasn't hard to figure out which way to go.

It's not the implementation. It's the philosophy. If you try to lock up something that wasn't locked up before, of course people are going to resist. It's foolish to expect anything less.

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Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing
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John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author
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