Six of the world's largest entertainment and technology companies are taking on one of the thorniest problems clouding the future of music and movies purchased online: anti-piracy locks that aren't compatible.
Consumer electronics giants Sony Corp., Samsung Electronics Co., Royal Philips Electronics and Panasonic parent Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., have agreed to develop a framework for digital rights management that will work with a variety of devices and services.
Hewlett-Packard Co. and News Corp.'s 20th Century Fox Film Corp. are also charter members of the Coral Consortium, which will be announced today.
The goal of the alliance is to move consumers past the frustrating situation that prevents songs downloaded from Apple Computer Inc.'s iTunes Music Store, for example, from being played on portable music players made by Dell Inc.
Notably absent from the consortium, however, are Apple, Microsoft Corp. and RealNetworks Inc., the companies behind the three most widely used technologies for digital rights management, or DRM.
Nor does the group have a proposed solution — just a commitment to develop one in the next nine months.
That won't be easy, said analyst Michael McGuire of Gartner G2, a technology research firm. If the system is too complex for a discount-store sales clerk to explain, he said, "it's not going to work."
But neither will the status quo. Analysts and industry executives agree that though today's early adopters are savvy enough to deal with the technical headaches, average consumers won't be so forgiving — and that could prevent legal downloading services from gaining traction.
If Coral succeeds, the entertainment industry won't have to settle on a single anti-piracy technology, said Talal Shamoon, chief executive of Intertrust Technologies Corp., a DRM developer controlled by Sony and Philips.
Intertrust plans to propose technology to the Coral Consortium that would serve as an interoperability framework.
Instead, songs, videos and other digital goods could move securely from device to device around a home or personal network as long as the DRMs work together automatically.