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CTIA Roundup: Microsoft and Nokia April 15, 2009

Posted by Azita Arvani in DRM, Mobile.
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By Azita Arvani

The CTIA Wireless show along with Billboard’s Mobile Entertainment Live took place recently in Las Vegas. There were a few copyright related items of interest that we will highlight for you here.

It seems like Microsoft and Google are getting a step closer to each other, at least when it comes to DRM technology, oops I mean content access technology.  Microsoft announced that PacketVideo will support its new PlayReady DRM in PacketVideo’s CORE multimedia application platform for mobile devices. We had a chat with Jonathan Usher, Director of Content Access and Protection Group at Microsoft. He said the version of CORE with PlayReady support, is planned to run on Android as well as Symbian and Linux platforms by end of this year.

In addition, PlayReady will be integrated into offerings from other companies, including CoreMedia (content management and Silverlight-based services), SafeNet (DRM server and cliens software), and Envivio (hardware audio/video encoders). For content providers that want to deliver protected content but don’t want to set up the server infrastructure themselves, Microsoft has launched the PlayReady Service Provider program, which offers hosted PlayReady server solutions through third parties. Six companies have already been approved as PlayReady Service Providers, including BuyDRM, CDNetworks, Entriq, ExtendMedia, Ipercast, and iStreamPlanet.

Usher also told us that AT&T will be using PlayReady technology as part of its three-screen services vision.  PlayReady will be part of AT&T’s IPTV, broadband, and wireless services. Microsoft will add support for PlayReady in its Mediaroom IPTV platform, which will enable use of PlayReady-protected content through AT&T’s U-verse TV set-top boxes. AT&T was one of the first carriers to jump onto Microsoft DRM bandwagon a few years back. PlayReady does not handle Conditional Access(CA) in its traditional sense, but according to Usher, it satisfies the use cases for CA.

Meanwhile, Nokia if forging ahead with its plans to extend Comes With Music service to regions beyond the UK, Australia, and Singapore.  Nokia has now expanded the service to Italy and Sweden. Users can have access to the entire music catalog for a period of 12 months, after which they can keep the downloaded tracks on their PC and on their phones. The downloaded music is protected by Windows Media DRM technology. The date for a US launch has not been announced.

Azita Arvani is Principal of Arvani Group.

Samsung Licenses Intertrust Patents April 14, 2009

Posted by Bill Rosenblatt in DRM, Mobile, Technologies.
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Today Intertrust announced that Samsung has taken a license to its patents covering DRM and Trusted Computing technologies.   The licenses will cover Samsung’s use of DRM technologies including OMA DRM and Marlin.  Products using the technology include a wide range of consumer electronics: set-top boxes, Blu-ray players, portable media players, mobile handsets, PCs, Internet TVs, and so on.  

This brings to 13 the number of major licensees that Intertrust has for its IP portfolio, a list that now includes just about all of the big players in the mobile device market (Nokia, Motorola, LG, Sony Ericsson, Philips and Panasonic as well as Samsung) as well as several major wireless carriers (Vodafone, Telefonica) and technology platform providers (Microsoft, Adobe, Sony).  Intertrust’s increasing momentum of licensing deals in the mobile arena is evidence not only of the industry’s intent to stay with DRM for certain applications but of the relevance of Intertrust’s technology to certain DRM schemes.  

At the same time, the deal with Samsung must have taken quite a while to negotiate.  Samsung is one of the major backers of Marlin, a DRM scheme for connected devices based on technology from Intertrust; Marlin was first announced in 2005, and the first Marlin spec appeared in 2006.  Samsung is the last of the Marlin co-founders — the others being Sony, Philips, and Panasonic — to license Intertrust’s IP.  In any case, the deal bodes well for the future of Marlin DRM on Samsung’s wide variety of consumer electronics products.

GSMA Mobile World Congress: Another View March 24, 2009

Posted by Bill Jones in Mobile.
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By Bill Jones

Last year more mobile phones were sold globally than the aggregate sales of TVs, PCs, and cars put together. There are approximately 4 billion mobile phones in a world of more than 6.5 billion people. Penetration rates in some European countries are 150% (Italy), while some are as low as 80% (France being one). Industry analysts are forecasting approx 40 billion mobile connections in an “internet of things” which will connect, white, brown, black, utility, automotive goods / products, and so on, but they don’t know how or when. Nonetheless it reaches deep into the home and consumer markets. Content in one form or another will play an increasing part.

It is a consumer market.

The mobile world is characterised by the tension between operators and handset manufacturers as to who controls the customer. Handset vendors view operators as a pipe to carry content; operators view handset manufacturers as a means to connect customers. It’s a very uneasy yet symbiotic relationship where progress by one is rarely possible without the support of the other. Making it all work together is a challenge. It is also characterised by the convergence between mobility and computing, both of which are consumer plays.

The GSMA Mobile World Congress is changing. This year it had fewer attendees and fewer exhibitors, and this was not due merely to the economic activity. Operators were less in evidence, having withdrawn from major exhibits and hospitality suites, partially anticipating lower attendance and partially due to economic pressures placed upon them by regulators to drive down prices. There’s nothing there for them other than networking opportunities and talking with vendors – and these days, why wait to do that once a year?

Infrastructure vendors have merged, amalgamated, or exited the business, so they were also less in evidence. What was in evidence was an increasing array of Pacific Rim and Chinese vendors, which are arguably less culturally attuned to intellectual property and rights management. The buzz in the show was around new handset models, new features, and new content offerings – that is, new plays for consumers. Yet too many handset vendors are posting red ink in a game that is heavily dependent upon market share. Profitability is highly sensitive to market share and they will do nothing to damage that.

So, GSMA vectors have moved away from infrastructure and operators to a more consumer flavor.

And while GSMA is international, the US – where DRM started – operates to a differing mobile standard and architecture from Europe.

DRM is a topic which raises high emotions amongst consumers. For many at Mobile World Congress, it’s a utility. As a handset vendor, are you going to promote DRM or announce it if it has possible negative connotations which can damage market share? In private conversations with participants, many vendors spoke of having implemented DRM and supporting all the latest standards, particularly with increasing content and monetization offerings. Yet none was going to issue a major announcement at this time, preferring to soft-launch new features that would not attract attention and that could be tested in a softer market with less capital commitments.

And since DRM vendors are dependant upon OEM vendors, they are not going to make announcements that could irritate their customers.

We know from our work with the mobile universe that DRM is here to stay. The groundwork is being laid for continued penetration of DRM, and this was acknowledged in private conversations in Barcelona.

Bill Jones is CEO of Global Village Ltd.

Amazon Launches Kindle Reader App for iPhones March 4, 2009

Posted by Bill Rosenblatt in Mobile, Publishing, Services.
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Today Amazon is launching Kindle for iPhone and iPod Touch, an e-book reader application, available in the iPhone App Store at no charge.

This is yet another major shift in platform tectonics for e-books, among so many in this young year already. And it shows that I was incorrect when I previously speculated that Amazon was imitating Apple’s iPod vertical integration strategy. (Brad Stone of the New York Times did me a kindness today in attributing this error to “a lot of people” rather than to myself.)

This means that users will be able to purchase e-books on Amazon.com and read them on a wide variety of devices — smartphones, BlackBerrys, Treos, and now iPhones and iPod Touches — pretty much anything with a decent display except the Sony Reader and a few devices being launched later this year, which will all use the Adobe Digital Editions platform.

In addition, the iPhone and iPod Touch app will afford access to the same major-publisher frontlist titles as are available on the Kindle. This is not currently true for the smartphones, PDAs, and other devices that support Amazon’s Mobipocket Reader.

The boundaries between e-book platforms are now blurrier than ever. Amazon’s intent is clearly to get retail traffic — which it can use for all sorts of beneficial purposes — and revenue from e-book royalties.

As for Adobe, it will be able to serve up frontlist e-book content for iPhones once Lexcycle completes its port of Digital Editions to the Stanza e-book reader for iPhones, which is expected soon. At that point, publishers will determine — through their licensing deals with Amazon and other e-book retailers — whether the e-book market will go to Amazon the way digital music has gone to Apple, or whether Adobe can provide meaningful competition.

And speaking of the Kindle: Amazon is now making the Kindle’s “experimental” read-aloud (speech synthesis) feature publisher-configurable rather than always on. Amazon took this action out of pressure from the Author’s Guild, which has been concerned that speech synthesis features of e-book readers would enable publishers to undercut the audiobook market and thus cheat authors out of royalties.

On the one hand, most other e-book platforms with speech synthesis enable publishers to decide whether to turn read-aloud on or not. But on the other hand, this move just goes to show the power of trade associations.

Mobile World Congress Roundup March 2, 2009

Posted by Azita Arvani in DRM, Europe, Mobile, Music.
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By Azita Arvani

Last week, we attended the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the largest global wireless show.  Here are the DRM and copyright related highlights of the show.

There was almost no mention of DRM, some mention of content protection, but lots of mobile music and video services around.

Nokia is extending the Comes With Music service to Australia and Singapore while also adding new phone models. Comes with Music phones include a 12-month or 18-month unlimited music subscription, depending on the mobile operator. And at the end of the year, the subscribers get to keep their downloaded music on their phones. Last October, the company launched the Comes With Music service in the UK with three phone models: 5310 XpressMusic, N95 8GB, and N96. Comes With Music wraps the songs in Windows Media DRM 10, so they cannot be moved onto other devices. At the show, Nokia told us that they were happy with the results in the UK, without giving any specifics. The 5310 was the favorite phone model. Since the users have not had a year with the phone to experience the end of the subscription, we can’t tell how the users will eventually react to the totality of this service. The company confirmed that it will continue using Windows Media DRM for the upcoming launches.

Sony Ericsson has launched a similar service, called PlayNow Plus, which has a more complex pricing structure. In this service, a Sony Ericsson phone comes with an unlimited music subscription for a certain period (6 months or a year). At the end of that period, the user gets to keep 100 or 300 downloaded songs. The users can then continue the music service at $14.99 per month. The service is based on Omnifone’s MusicStation infrastructure, which uses OMA DRM 1.0. The initial launch was with Telenor of Sweden in Q4 2008 on the Sony Ericsson Walkman phone W902.

At the show, Sony Ericsson announced a new W995 Walkman phone, which comes bundled with newly developed Media Go software. Media Go enables users to transfer music, video, and other media between their computers and cell phones. The software will also allow users to download movies to their PC’s and then transfer it to their W995 Walkman phone for playback. We were told the DRM for the movies will be OMA DRM 2.0 compliant, but we’d like to do more digging to make sure. The W995 Walkman phone is also DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) certified, which enables it to connect with other DLNA devices, like PlayStation 3, PSP, and many PC’s and set-top boxes for an interoperable home entertainment environment. A concept high-end camera phone demonstrated by Sony Ericsson at the show, named Idou, houses a 12 Mega Pixel camera and will also support DLNA connectivity when it ships in the second half of 2009.

Overall, the mobile music download services are still holding on to DRM with the exception of Sony Ericsson’s PlayNow in the Nordic regions. But we expect that will soon change to DRM-free music services.

The other relevant announcement at Mobile World Congress this year was Adobe’s Digital Editions e-book SDK for mobile devices, which Bill covered last week.

However, premium mobile videos and movies will be protected by DRM for the foreseeable future. Premium digital publications, such as eBooks, are another area where DRM still rules.

Azita Arvani is Principal of Arvani Group.

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