Sun Microsystems is releasing its digital rights management (DRM) project under an open-source license, in hopes of driving a unified standard in the technology used to project digital media such as music and movies.
Sun's DReaM Project would be released in the coming weeks under the open-source Common Development and Distribution License (CDDL) as the foundation for the Open Media Commons, Sun's president, Jonathan Schwartz, said.
Sun will invite other companies to join the project.
"The whole concept here is we build on what exists, let's build on existing open-source licenses that people trust," Schwartz said. "Let's build on the existing technology consortiums that work together."
A common, royalty-free DRM standard would allow digital content creators to get paid no matter what device a consumer is using, Schwartz said.
As more and more devices - from wristwatches to big-screen television sets - became capable of handling digital content, DRM needed to work across all digital devices, all formats and all business models to avoid confusion in the marketplace, he said.
"We are clearly coming into a world where devices ... will no longer be built for their functionality; they will be built for their form," Schwartz said. "We have to have a solution that contemplates diversity. It cannot contemplate a single device, a single format, a single protocol."
A royalty-free version of DRM should be available as more people creating their own Web logs or podcasts become content creators, he said.
People outside large media organisations were creating compelling content and should have a way to protect it if they chose to, Schwartz said.
Sun didn't have any Open Media Commons partners to announce, but Schwartz said he was confident others would join, just as they did with the Liberty Alliance identity management project founded in September 2001. The Liberty Alliance now counts 150 companies, non-profits and government organisations as members.
While Schwartz suggested users trust royalty-free open standards, that idea met some resistance at the Aspen event, sponsored by conservative think tank, PFF.
Senior fellow and director of the PFF Center for the Study of Digital Property, James DeLong, questioned how Sun would make money giving away a project that it's already worked on for years.
"In the end, Sun will need some revenue stream to support this," he said.
President of the Institute for Policy Innovation, Tom Giovanetti, said Schwartz might be ignoring an economic incentive for creating a product such as DRM if he was trying to give it away for free.
"Isn't it economically naive to say ... checking accounts are free and Google is free?" he said. "The fact that you don't pay for it doesn't mean it's free. You're failing to take into account alternative business models that ultimately result in a revenue stream to somebody."
The Internet itself wass built on open standards like HTTP and Sun's Java, and many companies have found ways to make money on the Internet, Schwartz said.
"We drove Java because we thought the Internet needed a standard," he said. "The marketplace asked how we made money, but in the year 2005, we have $US7.5 billion dollars in cash. So don't you worry yourself about that."
After the crowd stopped laughing, Schwartz noted that Sun and other technology companies made money by supplying software and hardware companies needed to connect to the Internet.
"Standards, in the end, create way more market opportunity," he said.
Some of the audience questioned if royalty-free standards were always the best approach.
Schwartz seemed to acknowledge that the open-source project could upset some DRM-based business models advanced by other software vendors or entertainment companies.
So far, large companies offering DRM and digital content had asked customers to pay for it, and the Open Media Commons project could create new business models, he said.
"For the most part, the companies involved have looked at, 'I have a movie, you have money. Let's swap,'" Schwartz said. "I don't think that's going to be the most popular business model on the Internet."