The Liberation of Digital Media?

Dennis Faas's picture

A consortium of Hollywood studios, retailers, service providers and other tech companies are banding together to liberalize digital media while still retaining property rights. Called the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE), the group's basic premise is to give users the ability to store digital content remotely and access it anywhere across multiple platforms including home-based and portable players.

DECE members are hoping their plan will replace the "ease and comfort" that users now experience with DVDs. (Source:

Of course, in a digital world the rules are a little different than the DVD experience of the 90s. We now live in a time where anyone with the right software can break a copyright, and peer-to-peer networks, like Limewire, Gnutella and Bit Torrent, have rewritten the rules of distribution. To that end the DECE promises reasonable "usage rights" for copying and burning purchased content. Mitch Singer, newly-minted president of the DECE, says the plan is to provide a "buy once, play anywhere" experience, and to provide users with a "rights locker" or online repository for all your digital content that can be accessed anywhere.

Details about what reasonable "usage rights" means, or how the "rights locker" will work are limited at the moment as DECE won't launch until the Consumer Electronics Show in January; however, to entice customers the usage rights would have to be at least as liberal as Apple's current Digital Rights Management (DRM) structure.

At the time of writing, DECE members include Alcatel-Lucent, Best Buy, Cisco Systems, Comcast, Fox Entertainment Group, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Lions Gate Entertainment, Microsoft, NBC Universal, Paramount Pictures, Philips, Sony Corp, Toshiba, VeriSign, and Warner Bros Entertainment. Two notable absences on that list are Disney and Apple, who, not surprisingly, share a close business relationship -- Apple founder and CEO Steve Jobs is Disney's largest individual shareholder, while iTunes is currently the only digital content retailer where you can buy animation from Disney's legendary catalogue. (Source:

Many analysts see DECE as a direct challenge to Apple's strong market share in the digital content arena, but there have been many contenders before. Microsoft recently closed up its PlaysForSure retailing operation, Amazon has retooled its UnBox service to include Video On Demand, Netflix is streaming a limited selection of computers straight to Windows-based computers and the studio-backed provides a mix of new and classic content via an ad-supported model.

However, despite all the competition Apple keeps on growing. iPods are everywhere, perhaps even more ubiquitous than cell phones, and no one seems to be in a hurry to switch to competitors like Microsoft's Zune.

With a big push from the major studios and key players in the digital arena, DECE just might succeed where others have failed. Don't turn in your iPod just yet though; Singers says that the DECE is not intended to replace Apple, even though an invitation for Apple to join DECE has been extended.

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