IBM pulls digital tagging plan

Quick retreat: Big Blue has changed its mind on controversial CPRM plans

IBM has withdrawn a proposed method of digitally tagging content, leading an industry coalition to adopt an alternative way to prevent piracy of copyrighted material.

"It was a bit of a surprise [that IBM pulled its plan]," said Steve Ballogh, a copy-protection expert at the Intel Architecture Labs.

The controversial plan, known as Content Protection for Removable Media (CPRM), had been proposed by 4C, a group of four consumer-technology giants: IBM, Intel, Toshiba and Matsushita. Under the plan, digital tags would have been incorporated into recordable CDs and flash memory cards used in MP3 players.

IBM representatives could not be reached for comment.

The plan was under consideration by T13, an industry coalition of hard drive and flash memory makers.

The coalition instead adopted a plan proposed by an engineer at laptop technology maker Phoenix Technologies. The adopted plan calls for a general-purpose technology that could be used in ways other than copy protection, Ballogh said.

Ballogh was in contact with members of the T13 group of the National Committee for Information Technology Standards -- the group responsible for storage standards -- at a meeting in Austin, Texas.

On Thursday, the committee gave the go-ahead for Phoenix to further develop its outlined plan for a way of accessing restricted parts of removable media, in which ID numbers, encryption keys, or other codes could be recorded. The new method would be used for copy protection, but could also serve other purposes, such as enhancing security on removable media such as flash memory cards.

"It seems to fit with what we needed to get done," Ballogh said.

The last-minute deal may also placate some of the original plan's critics.

Previous reports that the plan didn't just apply to removable media, but to every PC's hard drive, met with vociferous condemnation from many in the industry.

On its Web site, the T13 group has 69 pages of email criticising the committee for a proposal that seemed "an attempt by the entertainment companies to stem the tide of progress". Emails also called for a boycott of any new standard for hard drives that included the CPRM functions.

Yet Ballogh stressed that the 4C's interest in either proposal is the same: to give consumers a way to use content, while ensuring copyright holders that the content can be protected.

"It is a compromise between what an end user expects to be able to do and the content providers' wish to protect their material," he said. "We are not trying to take away users' rights or capabilities."

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