Many of the major players in the entertainment and technology industries are uniting behind a new form of digital rights management (DRM) -- that is, copy protection -- called UltraViolet. The Web site at uvvu.com claims it "can give consumers the freedom to experience movies and TV shows like never before".
The organisation behind UVVU is the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE). Its members include Adobe, Alcatel-Lucent, Best Buy, BT, Cisco, Comcast, DivX, Dolby, Fox, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Intel, LG, Lovefilm, Microsoft, Motorola, Nagravision, NBC, Netflix, Nokia, Panasonic, Paramount Pictures, Philips, Samsung, Sony, Tesco, Thomson, Toshiba, VeriSign and Warner Brothers. The holdouts include Apple, which uses its own proprietary DRM system, and Disney, where Apple boss Steve Jobs is a major shareholder.
Google and YouTube are also missing from the membership list, as is the BBC.
The idea is that content providers will start branding movies with the UVVU logo, and that these will play using UVVU-compatible media players, which will initially be available as software downloads. Later, there will be UltraViolet-branded hardware devices such as Blu-ray players, DVRs, Internet TVs, mobile phones and games consoles.
The benefit for suppliers is that they will have a common DRM system for downloads of movies and TV shows, and for DVD and Blu-ray discs. The benefit for consumers is that there will be a single DRM system that works across almost all their devices.
If users own any of Apple’s proprietary content consumption platforms, including the iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch and Apple TV, it seems they will have to buy a separate copy from Apple’s iTunes database… or get round the DRM in some way. But that’s already the case today.
UVVU uses an online verification system with a “digital locker” that stores proof-of-purchase tokens. It’s not clear what happens when users don’t have internet access. It’s also not clear how the number of users will be controlled: if I can buy a movie on my desktop PC and share it with my wife’s laptop and my son’s phone, what stops me from sharing it with a bloke in the pub?
There’s no doubt that users would prefer a system that lets them play anything anywhere by dint of having no DRM at all. However, the major content providers -- especially the movie studios -- believe they are being robbed blind by rampant piracy, so there is no chance of that happening at the moment. So, while no DRM is likely to get a welcome, having a single DRM might still be better than having several different systems.