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Open Media Commons turns the tables on DRM

Posted by jbob on August 21, 2005 at 10:24 PM PDT

In the past two months, we've seen Sun participate in The Apache Derby Project, an open source database written entirely in Java that IBM donated to Apache and now Jonathan recently announced Open Media Commons as an initiative that will develop royalty-free open standards for digital content.

No, you're not DReaMing

When Jonathan Schwartz kicked off the Progress Freedom Foundation Aspen Summit, last night with the Opening Remarks, I bet there were several people there that wished they were dreaming. This is because Jonathan shared his dream. He didn't just share any dream, he shared the Sun Labs project, "DReaM" (or DRM/ everywhere available) with the open source community under the OSI approved Common Development and Distribution License (CDDL).

He announced this last night as he unveiled the Open Media Commons initiative calling for an open source, royalty-free Internet standard to compensate rights-holders and stimulate innovation. Now THAT's the kind of dream I don't want to wake up from!

What's been contributed

Sun has launched Open Media Commons by donating the Sun Lab's DReaM project, licensed as open source with the CDDL License. It includes:

  • DRM-OPERA: An interoperable DRM architecture implementing standardized interfaces and processes for the interoperability of DRM systems.
  • Java Stream Assembly: Launch pad for Video Delivery Servers using the Java Stream Assembly (JSR-158) API
  • Sun Streaming Server (SSS): Designed to serve standards compliant media (audio/video) streams over IP using open-standard protocols such as RTP and RTSP. SSS is compliant with 3GPP and ISMA specifications.

Who's rights are we managing?

I think this turns the tables on DRM is a couple of ways.

First, I think this is the first time I've heard anyone talk about the rights of the individual when they talk about Digital Rights Management. Jonathan describes "an age where individuals are creating and supplying the news as much as they are consuming it. Mobile phones play music and take pictures, high-quality video is delivered to almost any device on earth.." He rightly points out that in this day and age, it's not just big corporations that produce valuable digital content and therefore "we must not allow progress to be stifled by clumsy, self-defeating Internet tollgates in the form of a monolithic, closed digital rights management system."

Secondly, and specifically to DRM-OPERA - which is part of Sun's contribution to Open Media Commons, is the notion of user-based license provisioning as opposed to device-based licensing.

My pet peeves about DRM

Digital Rights Management (or DRM) has been a pet peeve of mine for a while. In short, I'm tired of getting ripped off and this happens in a couple of ways:

Music: This is where all of my frustration is derived from. I can honestly say that there are certain "albums" (Led Zeppelin's 4th album comes to mind) that I have bought at least 9 times!

  • Album (twice, it got scratched)
  • Cassette (three times, once it melted on my dashboard, and once it got all jammed up in my cassette player)
  • 8-Track (hey, I thought it would be cool to not have to flip the tape)
  • Cassette again (Why in God's name would they split a song into 2 tracks on 8-Track!)
  • CD
  • MP3 (iTunes - Somebody swiped my CD or I would have burned it myself)

That doesn't take into consideration that there are certain songs that I have bought even more often because record companies make you buy a "Greatest Hits" CD just to get the 1 new song an artist just put out (or a previously unrecorded song). I think I did this twice with Aerosmith. I own every record they've ever made and at two different times had to buy (yet another) "Greatest Hits" for 1 new song.

The Music Industry has been ripping me off for years and now that I have my music digitally, I'm never re-purchasing my music just because you've changed the media.

Movies: To a lesser extent, the movie industry annoys me. VCR tapes don't last and I should not have to pay for my favorite movie over and over just because it wears out or because you've changed the media on me (to DVD). At least I wasn't one of those saps that fell for the whole Betamax thing!

Software: Now, I'm not one of those extremists (and all extremism is unhealthy and bad) that thinks all software should be free. I think that's up to the person that is sweating over the compiler to decide. I do however take exception when I need to repurchase the same version of the exact same software just because I switch operating systems.

If I go to Staples and buy Photoshop and merrily use it on Windows, I should not have to re-pay for it just because I get tired of viruses and switch to Linux. I shouldn't have to pay again (if I'm not changing versions) because I decided that I want a this years technology and switched to a Mac (Apple shipped Bluetooth, 802.11G and DVD burners before any Intel box ever did). If I am happy with the same software version that I originally purchased, and don't need an upgrade, let me run it on whatever Operating System I choose to.

Hey, it's 2005 and if you're software company is still writing code to a specific O/S, and not using Java, that should not become my financial burden. There are many ISVs that have one code base for any O/S and they are making money just fine without dinging their customers with an O/S tax.

The common thread with all of my pet peeves is that the experience that you paid for is not what you get. By that I mean, when I buy a music CD, a DVD, VHS movie, or in some cases, software, I expect that I am buying the right to use it for as long as I want, whenever I want, and wherever I want. I can listen to my CD in my house, car, your car, my walkman, etc without paying additional money. When I am forced to pay additional money when there is no apparent additional value, that isn't right.

Open Media Commons won't make all of my pet peeves go away, but a user-based license instead of a media or device-based license is a big step in the right direction.

The Party Is Over

Lot's of rules are changing for the better and industries better spend more time evolving and less time trying to stop it if they are going to survive. Open Media Commons is just another step in the natural progression we have seen:

  • CD Burners
  • MP3
  • Napster
  • iTunes
  • Open Media Commons

All of these things are changing the market for the better. Now that I can buy my songs individually, I don't have to pay $18 for 10 crappy songs and one good one.

Eventually, all of this is going to change how record companies contract with artists. No more multi-million dollar multi-record deals where we're lucky if we get 2 -3 decent songs.

With electronic distribution and the "Age of Participation", the record companies are going to have to redefine their value proposition to artists. Madonna might as well sell her songs direct from her own website. Her brand is stronger than any record label's brand.

Artists don't even need to be exclusive to record labels anymore, in my opinion. Most major recording artists, that bring in the big $$ for Record Labels, have their own recording studios. Times are a changing.

If big media companies or ISVs go out of business, it's not going to be because of digital media. It's going to be because the power in the market is shifting to the individuals that participate in the Age of Participation.

It's Not About Stealing

Big Media is spending all it's energy on DRM to prevent theft and lost revenues (those two are not necessarily related). DRM needs to be about protecting the rights of everyone involved. I need the freedom to enjoy what I've paid for, and if that requires transferring to a different media or copying or making a back-up, so be it. Copyright owners of digital content need to be fairly compensated for the use and enjoyment of their wares.

I think the majority of people are more than happy paying a fair price for a quality product or service. Nobody is talking about stealing or "beating the system". I believe that the majority of consumers are like me and do the right thing. I think the thieves are out on the fringe and we can't base how we manage all digital content on the way a minority of people behave.

Open Media Commons looks like it is going to put the emphasis of DRM on the right things: Openness, freedom, and fairness.

What now?

Participate! Go to and find out more. Join the revolution and let's make sure DRM gets done with our rights in mind!

Thanks for reading.


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