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Monday, September 15, 2008, 04:50 pm PT (07:50 pm ET)

Video industry plans escape from iTunes with 'open' standard

Afraid that Apple will gain the sort of lock on downloadable video that it did with music, Sony and a group of video business heavyweights are planning a new standard that would let copy protected movies and TV from any participating service work with many devices..

Put under the umbrella name of the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem, the coalition was started by Sony Pictures but now includes rival studios Fox, Lionsgate, NBC Universal, Paramount and Warner Bros. Microsoft and web security firm VeriSign are also onboard, as are hardware makers such as Cisco, HP, Philips and Toshiba. Alcatel-Lucent and Best Buy are also part of the venture.

Officially, the goal is to create an interoperable but still locked down approach to distributing videos online where buyers or renters could simply assume that an online video could work. As long as a device is in the user's "domain," content would play. In a presentation on DECE obtained by AppleInsider, Sony also claims that such a system would create a much more consistent rights environment: customers wouldn't face shifting copy limits if they choose to switch stores, while many stores today are ultimately balkanized.

On Monday, the studio also noted that DECE rules would be looser than they are with many video services today. A shopper would have the option to make unlimited copies, including the DVD burns that have regularly been off-limits at current online providers. In the strictest conditions, a user could still have access to a "locker" which recalls the customer's rights to play certain videos and stream content without any permanent copy involved.

But while this public objective is meant to remove some of the isolation between stores, Sony's presentation also underscores an attempt to head off Apple at the pass. The movie giant cites iTunes' prominence as a music store as an example of "the problem:" by allowing proprietary stores to exist, the music industry has effectively left the dominant format in Apple's control. The latter's decision to move quickly on downloads essentially cornered the market by making it first past the post, Sony says.

DECE: iTunes is the problem


DECE as the solution


Adopting DECE as a standard would prevent this from happening to video by divorcing control from the individual stores and making the rights the service offered to the end user.

The consortium plans to unveil its more detailed strategy for DECE during the Consumer Electronics Show in January, though the described approach bears some similarity to Microsoft's PlaysForSure standard. On its invention in 2004, the Windows Media-driven approach was envisioned as guaranteeing that content from supporting stores would always play on approved computers and devices; that standard continues to struggle for acceptance as its heavy dependence on Microsoft-made software has left it out of the current market, where Microsoft is only a minority.

Both Sony's outline and outside speculation also suggest the movie production house is worried that it might have to remove DRM its videos, which it sees as a negative that would make sharing too easy, remove obligations and prevent companies from invoking the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to enforce usage rights.