Reporters Notebook: Whos Leading the DRM Race?

Participants in the DRM Strategies show run the gamut from the household names like Microsoft to little-known startups. But as market segmentation sets in, everybody is pushing for their share of the DRM pie.

NEW YORK—In an industry as young as DRM, heavy hitters ranging from Apple Computer Inc. and Microsoft Corp. to RSA Security Inc. are duking it out against smaller specialists, trying to nail down early market leads.

Naturally, then, the hottest topic of conversation at this weeks DRM Strategies show in New York City revolves around who will win.

Predictions in this area are complicated by the fact that market segmentation is emerging. The digital rights management industry isnt big enough to be deeply fragmented. But vendors are looking to carve out specific niches. In delivering their spiels on the expo floor and in conference sessions, they strove valiantly to differentiate.

While Apple vies for kingship among digital consumers, RSA is stepping into the new realm of ERM (enterprise rights management). Microsoft, as might be expected, straddles both these domains.

In conference sessions oriented to digital media, names like Napster also get bandied about. Actually, Apple wasnt even at this show. Yet some show visitors are already convinced that Apples early hands-down lead will hold.


Click here to read how patent disputes are slowing the adoption of DRM.

"There is Apple—and then theres everybody else," said Chris Zachos, a project director at NPD Group, in an off-the-cuff interview with Ziff Davis Internet at the conference. "The market share for iPod is already so high—and Apples already purchased tons of music. Theyre also making it easy to buy the content through iTunes."

Others, however, think that Microsoft stands a strong chance versus Apple with its Windows Media consumer DRM platform.

Chris Parkerson, DRM evangelist for RSA, said he wouldnt be surprised if Microsoft was working on a way for consumers to search for music titles across conflicting file formats.

"Im sure Microsoft must have cooked up an idea like that. If they havent, they will soon," Parkerson said.

Many at this show are rooting for vendors to get together on standardized content delivery mechanisms. Yet customers and vendors tend to hold different perspectives around this prospect.

"There are a whole lot of hurdles to interoperability. Its not just a simple linear thing. But as those hurdles come up, were jumping each one as best we can," said James Wendorf, vice president and senior manager of technology and standards for Philips Electronics, in an interview.

"Interoperability is in the best interests of customers," according to Kevin Serafini, an engineer at Panthera Technologies Ltd.

"But interoperability is notnecessarily in the best interests of vendors, for business reasons," he said, speaking with Ziff Davis Internet at the close of a conference session.

Microsoft, RSA pursue ERM business

Meanwhile, over on the expo floor, the ERM segment seems to predominate in terms of numbers of vendors. In this market, newcomers RSA and Microsoft are joining longer-established specialists such as Adobe Systems Inc. and Liquid Machines.

ERM is aimed mainly at secure document management, as opposed to online sales of digital content.

Dianne Fayle, marketing manager at Liquid Machines, told Ziff Davis Internet that her company tries to differentiate itself along a number of lines, including fine-grained permission rights and support for numerous file formats.

For example, Liquid Machines customers can create permission constraints that remain with a document even if it is forwarded by the original e-mail recipient. Customers can also place time limits on document rights.

Next Page: ERM field attracts established players.