updated 08:25 am EST, Tue February 13, 2007
Microsoft PlayReady DRM
Microsoft at 3GSM surprised many by introducing PlayReady, the company's third copy protection format after Windows Media and the Zune's proprietary standard. The scheme is intended for cellphones as well as other handhelds and extends playback options past earlier formats: in addition to permanent copies and subscriptions, files can be set as rental, pay-per-view, or cleared for "super-distribution," according to Microsoft.
Crucially, however, the company revealed that PlayReady is its first DRM implementation to be independent of its own file types. While Windows Media music and video are still guarded, the same protection can apply to multiple AAC formats, H.264 video, and even rarely protected mobile content such as wallpapers or games. Every PlayReady device will still support Windows Media 10 protection for other stores.
Several carriers are already planning to introduce the standard across their phones, including the American providers AT&T and Verizon as well as major international firms such as O2 and Telefonica. No specific plans were revealed at the 3GSM show in Barcelona but should materialize in the first half of 2007, when the technology will be passed on to phone hardware and service creators.
The move represents simultaneous steps forward and backward for Microsoft. The Redmond developer drew fire last year for applying DRM even to unprotected tracks shared between its Zune players as well as seemingly abandoning its PlaysForSure standard in favor of a proprietary scheme that would only work with its own hardware. In creating PlayReady, however, the company appears to have made a partial concession to chairman Bill Gates' complaints about DRM by encouraging more interoperability between devices and formats.