Microsoft has launched a new digital rights management system that will allow users to use commercial content on multiple different devices for a single fee.
Microsoft PlayReady was unveiled at the 3GSM World Congress in Barcelona on Monday. It will allow users to share protected pieces of content between mobile phones, PCs and other devices.
Chadd Knowlton, general manager for content access and protection at Microsoft, explained that PlayReady is based on a system of virtual environments called Domains. Users can register multiple devices within their Domain. If a mobile operator, internet services provider or broadcaster has registered with PlayReady, the user can purchase their content through the system, and then transfer it to other Domain-registered devices. Alternatively, a user could download the content multiple times to each device.
Knowlton said that a user could register their family phones within a Domain, for example. However, it's not clear how many devices can be registered in a single domain.
"PlayReady is not integrated with Windows Mobile 6 [launched this month]," explained Knowlton. "It's platform-agnostic, and you can use it on whatever you want to put it on."
When asked whether this meant that PlayReady could be used on a Symbian phone, a main rival for Windows Mobile, Knowlton replied that it could be used on "whatever a user wanted".
Although digital rights management (DRM) is popular with content creators, it has attracted criticism. Sony was widely attacked after using a rootkit-like application to hide content protection on some music CDs, and earlier this month Apple's Steve Jobs called on the music industry to drop its use of DRM.
Knowlton cautioned that PlayReady was a "foundation technology", which might not be a mainstream feature for some time.
It has already attracted some industry support, with Verizon, Telefonica and O2 all signing up as partners.
Ovum analyst Jonathan Arber said that PlayReady appeared to be an attractive proposition.
"It presents mobile operators and device manufacturers with an end-to-end solution for interoperable mobile content, and promises to be fully compatible with Windows Media DRM 10. For service providers moving into a converged digital world, a single DRM solution is certainly desirable, not least because it meets increasing consumer demand for interoperability," said Arber.