Entertaining High Hopes for Digital Content, DMP Founded

The entertainment industry has been plagued with problems since the advent of digital distribution: The post-Napster music business will never be the same and the film industry can't begin to control the increasing flood of pirated movies available on the Web. But despite this reality, entertainment companies are slow to relinquish analog business models and face the likelihood that the Web may mandate taking a whole new business approach to delivering digital content. But there are industry leaders trying to propose a new way of doing things; the founder of the Moving Pictures Experts Group (MPEG), Leonardo Chiariglione, founded a new organization, the Digital Media Project (DMP), to do just that.

Formally registered as a non-profit organization last December, "the DMP proposal comes from the sense of frustration seeing the great possibilities that technology can provide today to create, distribute, and use content" going unused, according to Chiariglione. The DMP has a mission to promote continuing successful development, deployment, and use of digital media that respects the rights of creators and rights holders to exploit their works, the wish of end users to fully enjoy the benefits of digital media, and the interests of various value-chain players to provide products and services according to the principles laid down in its Digital Media Manifesto.

"The reality," according to Chiariglione, "is that we live in an age where on the one hand you have massive abuse of other people's intellectual property, and on the other a punitively scant access to great technology that remains unused. Our Manifesto has made an analysis of the problems and has come up with proposals of actions and the DMP has been set up to carry out those actions."

Of key import to the successful monetization of digital content is DRM. To date, Chiariglione says DRM has been hindered by, "Clumsy solutions that have alienated end users up against a background of freely available content." The DMP's rights-management focus is on interoperability rather than impenetrability to a techie teen, "What is important is that the DRM solution be interoperable; robustness is something that depends on specific implementation and does not necessarily have to be addressed by the DMP," according to Chiariglione. On a bright note, he adds, "The fact that someone can defeat a DRM is no reason to believe that the majority of people will stop paying for good content that offers attractive access and is reasonably priced."

Again, these later points may make or break the evolving digital content-based entertainment model. A common theme from those targeted by RIAA's suits has been the complaint that prices remain too high for content, especially given that many CDs rely on only one hit to sell a dozen lesser tracks. A parallel in the film industry has been the contention that one successful blockbuster pays for a slew of straight-to-DVD disappointments.

Philip Merril, an active contributor to the grassroots activity leading to the formation of the DMP, says, "DRM should be strict but fair... Because of the stalemate, no one is making money. They are squabbling over rights instead of making money."

The DMP also places a great deal of emphasis on developing strategies that enable end user rights. They propose that end users be granted the rights to quote, make a personal copy, choose a playback device, ensure privacy, and access works whose copyrights have expired.

Chiariglione says that "these rights are either recognized by law or have been exercised by millions of people for such a long time that they would resent being deprived just because something turns digital. The intention is to try and preserve those rights, to the extent that this does not jeopardize the value of content in the digital space." The DMP contends that the adversarial relationship developing between entertainment content providers and end users is not totally unproductive, but the current spate of litigious efforts to stem piracy will likely not produce long-term solutions. The DMP's Manifesto states that, "Digital Media is a total paradigm shift, so it is an illusion to attempt to counter its effects with ad-hoc technology stopgaps mandated by law. Primarily because governmentally sanctioned enforcement and punishment is only a deterrent, legal solutions play an important role in coping with an emergency yet are inherently inadequate by themselves in the long run."

Merrill says, "My hope is that, through the Digital Media Project, we will enable new business models and that, because it's a paradigm change, we will go from failure to success."