UltraViolet: DRM for online content handled through the cloud

As you're probably aware, digital rights management (DRM) hasn't exactly worked as smoothly as content creators and copyright holders would like. Probably the most successful DRM solution to date -- Apple's FairPlay -- was eliminated in 2009 for digital music sold through iTunes, and remaining systems have competed with one another without gaining widespread traction.

As you're probably aware, digital rights management (DRM) hasn't exactly worked as smoothly as content creators and copyright holders would like. Probably the most successful DRM solution to date -- Apple's FairPlay -- was eliminated in 2009 for digital music sold through iTunes, and remaining systems have competed with one another without gaining widespread traction.

Now a consortium of technology and entertainment companies has banded together to try a new approach to DRM that the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE) is calling UltraViolet. What makes it different from its predecessors? For one thing, it has the support of everyone from Comcast to Fox to Microsoft to Sony, though Apple and Disney are (very) notable omissions from the list. In theory, if DRM is going to work, it needs to be a universal system that doesn't leave out a popular device or an entertainment company's content -- the DECE is at least closer to that goal than ever before.

The one-size-fits-all approach meets the latest tech trend -- cloud computing -- in UltraViolet's DRM strategy. Specifically, you would get an UltraViolet account that keeps your content and device info online, and you would be able to access it seamlessly across products that support the UltraViolet standard, whether that's through an HDTV, tablet PC, smart phone, or other devices. The tech specs for UltraViolet will be available sometime this year, and presumably devices and content using the new DRM standard would be coming to market in 2011.

While the idea of the Digital Rights Locker in the cloud isn't a new one, the number of connected devices continues to grow, which means UltraViolet could stand a better chance of actually succeeding where other DRM formats have failed. Then again, the fact that Apple isn't a DECE member represents a major hole in the hopes of universal connectivity, especially if it makes a more focused attempt to enter living rooms via a revamped Apple TV.

The other thing working against UltraViolet is the very thing that is supposedly helping its approach. The growth of the cloud may make the Digital Rights Locker more feasible, but it also makes the streaming of online content an increasingly important way to watch and listen. How much longer will people download individual pieces of content to own when they can watch Netflix streaming titles or access a streaming iTunes service (which could potentially come in the near future) instead?

The DECE may provide the best attempt yet at making a universal DRM standard with UltraViolet, but if we will eventually access content anywhere anytime on any device via streaming from the cloud, it may also be DRM's last gasp. What do you think? Let us know in the Comments section.

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