If you've never heard of the Digital Living Network Alliance, now is a good time to get hip to it. The DLNA is a multivendor alliance that's promoting the idea of standards-based wireless and wired interoperation of everything from computers to hifi gear to multimedia-enabled phones. The alliance's backers -- including Intel, Sony, Kenwood, Pioneer, Panasonic and Microsoft -- reads like a who's who of the tech and consumer electronic industries. To get the all the different computer and personal entertainment products that need to interoperate with each to actual working together (something most gear doesn't do very well today unless it comes from the same manufacturer), the DLNA has issued version 1.0 of its interoperability guidelines.
One of the first problems with the guidelines is that you have to pay $500 for a copy or join the DLNA for $5,000. This must be something that the consumer electronics industry insisted on since no one in their right mind in the computer industry would ever charge to download a technical specification that's for interoperation. Imagine for example, if the W3C or OASIS charged money to see the specification for the HTTP protocol or the OpenDocument Format. Can you say dead on arrival? I can't think of a more perfect way to lock out the real innovators working in their basements and garages.
But the second problem recently got some coverage over on CMP's Embedded.com. According to the report, version 1.0 of the DLNA's interoperability guidelines left one small detail out: what to do about Digital Restrictions Management (DRM: some people like to call it Digital Rights Management. But it's way more about restrictions than it is about rights). Why is this a problem? Well, DLNA 1.0-certified products are just now beginning to surface on the market and there's one small hitch. You may be able to connect them to each other. But just try passing that DRMed song or video you recently bought at some online music store and, poof!; nothing works (by the way; some time, in the not too distant future, all CDs and DVDs will be DRMed as well). The report quotes Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) television and video systems standards vice president Jim Williams being critical of the DLNA's failure to address DRM when he said that consumers:
should be able to put their devices together...Right now, if they did that, the only thing they would be able to pass across the interface would be their own personal content.
Sound familiar? Well, if you've been reading my series on why the world needs declare inDRMpendence by saying no to DRM -- at least until everyone is on board with a single open DRM standard -- then you'd know that I'm encountering exactly that problem right now because I can't play the 99 cent songs that I bought on iTunes on my whole home entertainment system.
Even worse, the DLNA has formed a sub-group to work on another layer of DRM called physical-link encryption. Without looking, I'm guessing that the entertainment companies want this before they'll let home entertainment devices stream DRMed content across a network. Without some other form of DRM like encryption, other devices could easily pick up the stream -- particularly if it's on a wireless connection -- and play the content (a right that the entertainment industry doesn't want us to have). Today, such streaming constitutes DRM circumvention which is officially against the law according to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Just what we need: the addition of insult to injury.