DRM is added to Flash with new rights management server

With today's rollout of the Adobe Flash Media Rights Management Server, Adobe is unabashedly targeting a product specifically at movie studios, big corporations, and content providers anxious to protect their IP.

But Adobe first adopted digital rights management not too long ago, with the addition of new technologies in Flash Media Server 3 and the Flash 9 player. So how will Media Rights Management Server be any different?

"Flash Media Server 3 has content protection for streaming video over RTMP. But the Media Rights Management Server protects video downloaded in FLV or MPEG4," said John Landwehr, director of Adobe's security solutions strategy, in a briefing for BetaNews "The DRM can continue to work even when you're playing back video offline."

But to make this happen on a desktop or mobile PC or Mac, you can't use a garden variety Flash player. Instead, downloading content from the new DRM server requires installation of either the new Adobe Media Player or a custom video application running on Adobe's recently released AIR software.

So the addition of DRM to the world's biggest Flash video sources, especially YouTube, may not necessarily be in the cards unless for some reason they suddenly want to drop their own recently API-opened video console and adopt Adobe's. Meanwhile, the very reason content providers are intensifying their pressure on Adobe for IP protection of some form, has been the proliferation of nearly untrackable content over YouTube.

Among the content providers already signed on to use Flash Adobe Media Flash Player, however, is Hulu, the NBC/Fox joint venture. Landwehr readily acknowledged that sites such as Hulu have "increased the visibility of Flash video on the Web."

Meanwhile, along with pressure on one side for Adobe to finally adopt DRM as though it's lagged behind, there's a groundswell of opposition to Adobe's steady moves there from the opposite side of the spectrum.

For example, in an article posted on the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Web site, Staff Technologist Seth Schoen argues that Adobe's use of DRM in the Flash server and player "threatens to squash a growing tradition of expressive fair use of online video."

Although Landwehr told BetaNews he hadn't read Schoen's article, he did say the new Media Rights Management Server is designed to "give content owners...content protection as an option.

"This is very important to our customers. But that said, the user experience is also very important. If you don't provide a usable consumer experience, that means people won't watch your content. And this isn't what content providers want, either."

Aside from commercial video producers such as film studios, Media Rights Management Server is also targeted at corporations concerned that training videos or digital footage of company meetings might "accidentally or maliciously leak out" over the Web, he said.

Running on a choice of Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Enterprise Edition or Red Hat Enterprise Linux AS or ES 4.0, the new server supports "buy, rent, and ad-supported business models," according to Landwehr.

For Adobe, he maintained, the DRM server represents a tradition of digital content protection and security that began way back in the 1990s with Portable Document Format. On the security side, Media Rights Management Server encrypts content, signs playlists, and associates content with policies specifying viewing rights. It also comes with a built-in service provider interface that developers can use to create authentication and authorization handlers for LDAP and Active Directory.

Available now, Adobe's new Media Rights Management Server is priced at $40,000 per CPU (PDF with full specifications available here). A BEA WebLogic 8.1 application server is required. For strong encryption keys and access controls lists, an Oracle database is also required.

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