DRM Goes to the Movies

Sony Pictures Entertainment CIO John Stubbs on how digital rights management can be used to thwart pirates.

CIO Insight: You were named the CIO of Sony Pictures Entertainment on Sept. 12. You were a consultant in digital rights management. What lessons can the visual entertainment industry learn from the music industrys experience?

Stubbs: I think movie executives have the advantage of learning from what Napster and other peer-to-peer networks did to the music industrys ability to support its business models. The music industry has suffered greatly and a lot of it is because of the rampant piracy thats going on right now. Forewarned is forearmed.

Youll be heading Sony Pictures global information technology group, responsible for fully integrating the information systems that support SPEs motion picture, television, home entertainment and corporate-level operations. Whats key to your strategy?

Its a tad too early to talk about everything just yet. I just got here. But digital rights management will be one of the priorities. We will continue many initiatives already under way and we will also be investigating DRM policies and initiatives.

DRM includes the rules and protective mechanisms for the exploitation of content. In other words, you can protect content and only allow assets when people abide by a set of rules that have been specified. Typically, the content owner specifies the rules, or it could be specified by people who the content owner gives permission to specify new rules, so it can be a layered rule approach. Basically, these rules are designed to support various business models—for example, a business model might be a pay-per-view, or another business model might be that you own it, but its only good for viewing on a particular device, or it can be for an unlimited use. These are all different business models that content owners and the retailers, or the distribution industry, will adopt.

You believe that XrML, the language developed by Xerox ContentGuard, will be the successful common platform for DRM in the entertainment industry. Why?

I think it will be one common way of expressing rights. It has a leg up on everybody because its been adopted by Microsoft and its a very rigorous language that allows for a lot of flexibility.

What needs to happen technologically to enable the digital distribution of movies and TV shows?

Thats a hard question to answer. I think there will need to be a number of technologies further developed. For example, its fine to say you have a rights language and its another thing to say you have technologies that can interpret that rights language and enforce those rights before they allow unauthorized people to have access to content. Interpretation and enforcement is still a fairly complicated problem.

Theres a lot of intellectual property out in the marketplace right now, or a lot of patents, if you will, which have been issued by the patent office on this subject, and its not clear which technology providers are going to be stepping up to the plate and getting a license from the patent holders to develop the necessary technology. Microsoft, of course, is a major player. They are quite a ways down the line and are investing heavily in DRM technology.

I think the next three to five years are going to be very interesting and were going to be addressing these issues of DRM head on. Theres a new policy group thats just formed at Sony Pictures Entertainment that will be involved in figuring out where we stand on digital rights issues, and I hope to contribute to and help execute that effort in a meaningful way.