Microsoft releases DRM software Janus

Redmond (WA) - Microsoft unveiled the features of its Windows Media Digital Rights Management (DRM) software, formerly code-named Janus. The software will allow digital media distributors greater control over the content they provide to users.

At the core of Janus are features which will enable companies to integrate expiration dates of music and video files and protect content from piracy. According to Microsoft, the technology will make it easier for services to rent rather than sell digital content, which may make sense for example for entertainment during travel, for example.

According to Microsoft, its new DRM will be available for use on portable audio devices, cellular phones and PDAs such as Windows-based Pocket PCs and Smartphones, and networked devices connected within the home, including devices connected over a wireless network.

Content providers who agreed to use Microsoft’s new technology include America Online, Disney as well as OD2 service providers CinemaNow, Movielink, MusicNow, Napster, VirginMega France and Yacast.

Microsoft and its partners praised the technology in various statements for the press. "Our goal has always been to offer music fans the widest range of options to experience leading content in the highest quality possible," Alex Blum, vice president of broadband, music, games and entertainment products for AOL, was quoted for example. However, DRM remains a controversial technology which is seen as critical by the entertainment industry to rebuild lost revenues but is viewed as Trojan horse to gain control on how people use digital content.

Don Marti, former director of the Silicon Valley User Group and today Editor-in-Chief of the Linux Journal, said that "DRM is extraordinary dangerous to free speech and democracy. Everything you say is deniable in a DRM environment." According to Marti, DRM content is restricted and might not be available in the long term. "During the election campaign of Mr. Schwarzenegger in California, many things came up what he had said in the past. With DRM, this information might not have been available."

Marti also doubts that DRM is the right way to educate people on copyright laws. "DRM is not restricting copyright infringement. Most of it is just an inconvenience for the user and goes against the value of digital content," he said. "If you just take the iPod, which has a very mild form of DRM, you can run into problems easily. Just transferring content from one to another platform can give you a really bad taste of DRM and can drive people away from the use of such services." He also believes that DRM will not preserve an existing distribution infrastructure for the industry, but will require media companies to heavily invest "into someone’s DRM system."

Marti argued, that media companies rather should work on a zero tolerance policy for large scale commercial infringement on digital files - such as in P2P services. Instead of distributing on downloading files through file-sharing service people could use Internet radio which would enable "fair use" of music, Marti said.

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