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ContentGuard Speaks Digital Rights Language

Digital rights technology company ContentGuard (www.contentguard.com), announced on Monday that it released version 2.0 of its eXtensible rights Markup Language (XrML), to help content owners sell a wide range of digital goods.

New capabilities added to XrML 2.0 include establishing rights and conditions to access different services. It has a new flat structure that lets users organize around any dimension of the license, including giving licenses to users and devices. The full XrML 2.0 specification is available free at (www.xrml.org).

XrML is the language for digital rights management and is currently being used by Microsoft in its Windows Media technology. It was initially invented at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), and has been in development for years.

Michael Miron, CEO of Content Guard said his company's patents cover any use of language to express digital rights, and it isn’t tied directly to XrML. "You need a license from us or you infringe on the patent," he said.

"Microsoft has been using XrML since its inception, and we look forward to expanding the use of XrML in the future," said Will Poole, vice president, New Media Platforms Division for Microsoft, in a statement. "The open interoperability offered by XrML is vital to the success and rapid innovation of the many content security efforts throughout the industry." Microsoft is also a minority investor in Content Guard.

Although XrML isn't a standard, Content Guard said on Monday that it is willing to give up XrML to an international standards organization. The company is currently in discussions with several standards organizations about accepting this governance role. ContentGuard said it would give up XrML but keep the intellectual property and patents to the technology, and earn revenue from licensing fees. So far, proposals have been made to MPEG-21 and TV Anytime.

XrML isn't the only DRM language available. In June, RealNetworks unveiled its own language, eXtensible Media Commerce Language (XMCL). Since its initial announcement, however, RealNetworks hasn't released any other news about XMCL. In the coming weeks, RealNetworks will be launching its new RealONE subscription service, as well as MusicNet, which will ostensibly use XMCL.

Still, Miron wasn't impressed, calling Real's DRM specification "narrow" and "not commercially useable at the moment". "If XMCL hasn't evolved since [the June announcement], frankly it's a joke," he said.

In other news, ContentGuard also released a software developer's kit (SDK) to let developers build XrML-based DRM solutions in hardware or software products.

Launched in April 2000, ContentGuard switched its business model to concentrate on supporting the rights language rather than conducting DRM services and releasing products. As a result it scaled down its operations in August 2001.

Miron compared Content Guard's new direction to Qualcomm, which has garnered lots of patents around Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) technology in the wireless space. After Qualcomm developed CDMA, the International Telecommunications Union selected CDMA as the standard for 3G wireless systems. "This has been done before, so it's not new. It is new to this space, but then so is almost everything else," he said.

Miron seems confident that DRM will be hitting its stride soon. Earlier this year, Miron said that DRM was mostly about who was more defensive in shutting down hackers and becoming more secure. But he said that security shouldn't be the main issue because there aren't many companies using DRM right now. "The real issue is about containing breaches when they happen," he said.

Miron said that there should be DRM products shipping in the middle of 2002. "But I can't tell you who," he said. "That's not for me to announce; other people will build around the [specification]."

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