by Timothy Lee
Mon, Nov 19th 2007 1:49pm
A Pioneer spin-off called SyncTV has launched. Consumers will apparently be able to subscribe to "channels" of content, and eventually you'll be able to play those channels on a variety of devices around the home, as well as portable devices. So far, it looks like little more than vaporware, as their public website doesn't have any real details about pricing, supported devices, etc. What really irritates me about the coverage of the launch is the description of Marlin as an "open-source DRM system." This phrase is a contradiction in terms, and anyone who claims their DRM scheme is open source, or based on open standards, is either confused or trying to mislead. For a product to be considered open source, not only must the source code be publicly available, but there can't be any legal restrictions on the modification and re-distribution of the product. On the other hand, DRM works by ensuring that approved devices won't perform certain operations, such as converting content to an unencrypted format. The two sets of requirements obviously can't be reconciled. SyncTV's site phrases things slightly differently, describing its platform as "completely based on open standards." But this, too, is deceptive. An open standard is one that anyone is free to implement without asking for permission. HTML is an open standard: you don't need a license from the W3C to create a new web browser. On the other hand, a DRM scheme requires a licensing authority to verify that each new device to verify that it complies with the rules of the DRM scheme. And we've seen incumbents use this approval process (and the DMCA, which gives it the force of law) to squash innovative competitors that threaten their business models. Marlin could turn out to be marginally better than some existing DRM schemes if it employs less restrictive licensing terms. But it's still a DRM scheme, and that means there's nothing "open" about it.
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