As content players get more serious about copyright protection, International Business Machines Corp. is effectively getting down to business with its new digital-rights management package.
The venerable hardware and software maker has unveiled a new digital-rights toolbox within its Electronics Media Management System. The beefed-up offering will integrate with IBM's lineup of content-management, distribution and electronic-commerce software to offer digitally secure audio, text, image or video content.
In effect, it brings information technology's data-protection sensibility to the entertainment content space, said IBM Digital Media marketing director Scott Burnett.
It's "being able to media-enable the value chain so your IT infrastructure is able to work with media as objects," Burnett said. "That's really what is new here."
In the past, unconnected rights-management tools had been offered, he said. "Now, we look at processing power of next-generation chips and processors, and we look at the code has migrated over the years to the point where you can use standard computing platforms as a means to manipulate digital media and content," said Burnett.
One part of the system embeds security hooks that govern how content is to be used directly into digital content. The hooks let the user know whether the content is only for streaming, or if it can be downloaded or copied. That way, there's no reliance on software sitting on the PC or PDA to sort out the appropriate use.
The integration aligns the EMMS to work with other IBM offerings, including its Enterprise Content Management products and middleware offerings, such as the streaming Video Charger and DB2 database-management software.
"We've had disconnected server farms, disconnected silos of media applications over the years," Burnett said. "Now, you are looking at how all of this fits within the e-business infrastructure."
The EMMS system also is based on open standards, so content owners can be somewhat comfortable that the system they buy into today won't be orphaned as industry standards evolve. Burnett said the DRM elements will be able to change along with those standards.
"That's the major sea change we have taken with EMMS," Burnett said. "No longer is it more of a rigid, end-to-end, DRM-specific application for music.
"It is now an open piece of middleware which allows for end-to-end delivery, but for different media types, different codecs and different codecs to interoperate."
Although digital-media business models may not have completely gelled, the new IBM package can still help content owners to convert content to digital format, organize it, add e-commerce capabilities and set the protection rules for distribution.
"Those are some pillars of what's necessary to create this new revenue opportunity," Burnett said. "Exactly what the business model is evolving, as they start to play around with the technology and look at what the consumer really resonates with."
Organizing the content is one part of keeping it secure. A recent Frost and Sullivan study showed the average media company employee looks for media files 85 times a week and fails to find the content 35 percent of the time.
Separately, IBM has widened its relationship with music distributor FreePlay Music Inc., forging an agreement to jointly offer new digital-media technology for content holders.
Under the deal, FreePlay will use IBM's content-management middleware, which places "watermarks" on audio files to track how it they're used, how royalties are distributed and how popular it is among users.
While it's just one part of a whole system for handling and distributing content, the DRM portion is crucial to content owners, Burnett noted.
"Hot points don't happen on their own. They are there because there is perhaps pain that is being felt," he said. "Protecting the content as it becomes viable to go from one end to the other is now necessary."