Microsoft Builds DRM for Mobile Phones

In an indication that Microsoft’s strategy for digital rights management in the "Zune era" will be even more stratified than at first thought, the company introduced another DRM technology to the mix this morning at 3GSM in Barcelona: PlayReady, which appears to add streaming media and pay-per-view capabilities to the PlaysForSure platform it already had in place.

This morning, Microsoft is calling PlayReady “the result of extended dialogue with the mobile industry,” whose members were evidently looking for a more flexible way to transfer content between devices.

Though the company touted phone manufacturers as being among those calling for the new standard, it primarily lists mobile service operators, including Verizon and AT&T. As of yet, PlayReady does not appear to be associated with specific devices, though its formats are said to be downwardly compatible with Windows Media 10.

PlaysForSure is typically associated with WM10, and Microsoft’s new Windows Mobile 6 operating system -– whose official rollout was also celebrated this morning –- is typically associated with PlaysForSure. In an interview last week with Microsoft Windows Mobile product manager John Starkweather, he told BetaNews that WM6 will be associated directly with PlaysForSure.

"We've always supported the ability to synchronize music, video, recorded television directly from a PC, or also from any of the PlaysForSure Windows Media DRM subscription services,” Starkweather told us. "You can fill as much storage as you can put on a Windows Mobile device, you can port all your Yahoo music over, your Rhapsody music over, your Napster music over, very, very easily."

In this morning’s statement, Microsoft said it will be implementing what it refers to as an interoperability program "so content may flow to qualifying DRM and content protection technologies." It did not list any specific technologies that qualify just yet, nor did it explicitly mention PlaysForSure or Zune’s DRM as perhaps qualifying under the terms of this program.

This morning, a company called PacketVideo may have done a better job of explaining what PlayReady is than Microsoft, calling it a “content access technology,” and vowing to be the first company to implement it for managing and protecting transactions involving not just songs and video, but also downloadable ringtones and wallpaper.

The WM6 rollout today also involves AT&T (formerly Cingular) and Verizon, as well as Sprint and T-Mobile. Apparently managed separately, WM6's content protection technologies are being referred to using a carefully chosen new phrase, information rights management or "IRM," perhaps in an attempt to distance Microsoft from "DRM" - a phrase and abbreviation that has become a magnet for negative attention.

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