The Digital Media Project

The Digital Media Project

By 2003 the MPEG-21 project that I had kicked off three years before in MPEG, as a result of my failure to convince SDMI to move to technology specification after their successful achievement of the Portable Device specification, was in full swing. Still I could already see that no matter how successful the project would be in developing the Multimedia Framework, it would not be enough to provide the solution I was seeking. System-level interoperability, my quest since DAVIC times, could not be achieved by just making the pieces available, the complete system had to be put in place.

This realisation was mounting while my permanence at CSELT, Telecom Italia’s research centre that had just been renamed Telecom Italia Lab or Tilab, was getting harder with my mounting disagreement with the direction the center was taking after yet another change of the reference shareholder at Telecom Italia. While mulling about my future I began writing these pages collectively called “Riding the Media Bits” where I did not hide my dissatisfaction with the outcome of the grand project begun some 75 years before to move the world from analogue to digital, in particular as far as media was concerned. The potential of the digital media technologies created by the various initiatives I had started was impressive but its exploitation missed two main targets: end users, because too few of those technologies were actually being put to practical use, and creators and their proxies because in too many cases those technologies had damaging effects to them.

On my “Independence Day” (4th of July 2003) I left Telecom Italia, my employer of 32 plus years. The following day I disclosed to the vast circle of friends and acquaintances that I had created over the years the plan I had been spawning for some time, namely to start an initiative designed to bring more digital media technologies than compression to good use. Before engaging in a solution, however, there was a need to achieve a common awareness of the problem, as I had done for my other initiatives DAVIC, FIPA and OPIMA.

I could no longer rely on CSELT for that so I had to change, actually improve on, my old approach, also thanks to the internet and the WWW. So I decided to promote the creation of a grassroots movement to develop and publish a Digital Media Manifesto (DMM), a document that should identify the causes of the “digital media stalemate” and propose ways to overcome it. The virtual meeting points of the movement were the DMM email reflector, the DMM web site and a site to publish the contributions to DMM made by the community.

On the 30th of September 2003 the Digital Media Manifesto was published, after less than 3 months of work. To grasp the essence of the document I will quote the Executive Summary

Today Digital Media has been enabled by remarkably sophisticated technologies with potential opportunities for creativity, business, culture and enjoyment, as well as benefits for players all along the value chain.

However, the achievement of a full Digital Media Experience is stuck in a stalemate. There is too much at stake to simply bow to this stalemate as an inevitable presence to live with in the next few years to come, hoping wistfully that the mess will be sorted out some day soon.

The Digital Media Manifesto identifies the need for coordinated policy and technical actions needed to achieve this fuller realisation of Digital Media. The policy actions include reviewing the Digital Media standardisation process. The technical actions require, as explicit critical success factors, the development of specifications for interoperable Digital Rights Management (DRM) platforms technically open to value-chain players and for interoperable end-user devices, and the development of recommended practices for end-to-end conformance assessment.

Executing these actions is the mission of the Digital Media Project, a not-for-profit organisation whose establishment is proposed to create the policy and technical conditions for a sustainable Digital Media economy.

The text of the Manifesto goes in more analytic detail of the stalemate. The actions proposed are very clear and can be summarised by the table below

The first policy action was designed to develop effective means to enable the continuation in the digital space of the ensemble of usages, that the Manifesto calls Traditional Rights and Usages (TRU), made possible by laws and exceptions or simply practiced by the general public. Unless such usages are possible in some form users would see any digital media solutions as a poor proposition compared to the analogue solution or to the current digital solutions that are very much at the root of the “digital media stalemate”.

The second policy action was designed to leverage on the flexibility of digital technologies to phase out “analogue legacies” such as those represented by “levies” charged indiscriminately on certain devices or delivery systems just because of their potential use for digital media.

The third policy action was designed to consider the interrelation of technology, user demand, service provisioning, economics, legislation and politics, to generate a vision for improved broadband access that is synergistic with the DMM vision.

The fourth policy action was designed to create the conditions for a more efficient transfer of innovation to Digital Media via a more streamlined access to technologies that require standardisation.

The technical actions concerned the development of technical specifications for an interoperable Digital Rights Management (DRM) platform, including in particular end user devices and the means to test implementations for conformance. The vision for this was

…to make an improved Digital Media Experience economically rewarding on a global scale, legitimate for the multiplicity of players on the value chain and satisfactory for end-users, with the ultimate goal of realising a fuller Digital Media Experience.

After publishing the DMM a new DMP email reflector was established to continue practical discussions that led to the establishment of the Digital Media Project (DMM) on the 1st of December 2003 in Geneva, in the same rooms of Maîtres Jacquemmoud et Stanislas’s law firm that saw the birth of DAVIC, FIPA and MPEG-4 Industry Forum.

The DMP Statute signed by those attending the ceremony in Geneva was developed by the continuation of the DMM grassroots that so became the DMP grassroots.

Article 3 of the statutes is very clear about the key elements of the new organisation, namely

about the mission:

…to promote continuing successful development, deployment and use of Digital Media that respect the rights of creators and rights holders to exploit their works, the wish of end users to fully enjoy the benefits of Digital Media and the interests of various value-chain players to provide products and services, according to the principles laid down in the Digital Media Manifesto.

about the modus operandi:

…on the basis of open international collaboration of all interested parties: corporations and individual firms, partnerships, governmental bodies or international organisations, supporting the DMP mission and the means to achieve its goals…

about the means to achieve the goal:

…through the development of Technical Specifications and Recommended Practices enabling businesses that support new or improved user experiences, and Recommended Actions to appropriate entities to act on removal of barriers holding up exploitation of Digital Media.

and about what to do of the results of its activities

…contribute … to appropriate formal standards bodies and other appropriate entities whenever this is instrumental to achieve the general DMP goals.

While the DMP as an organisation was being set up, e.g. with the selection of Eurescom as the DMP Secretariat, the DMP grassroots started the development of a list of 88 TRUs all based on a standard template. This monumental task took almost all of 2004 to complete and was eventually endorsed by DMP.

The first DMP meeting was hosted by Eurescom at their premises in Heidelberg. The meeting developed several important elements, among which were a first list of requirements, plans for the “TRU workshop” at the following meeting in Los Angeles in April 2004 and the DMP work plan.

At the second and third meetings, respectively, a TRU workshop and a DAS workshop were successfully held. At the third meeting DMP produced the Call for Proposals on Portable Audio and Video (PAV) Devices. A large number of submissions were received at the fourth meeting where a successful PAL workshop was also held. The first Interoperable DRM Platform (IDP-1) specification was approved at the sixth meeting, 18 months after the establishment of DMP).

At the same meeting the responses to the second Call for Proposals on Stationary Audio and Video Devices were due. The second Interoperable DRM Platform (IDP-2) specification was approved at the ninth meeting, nine months after the approval of IDP-1.

The DMP went on approving the third Interoperable DRM Platform (IDP-3) specification at its fifteenth meeting DMP. The current version of the IDP specification is 3.3.

The DMM had already identified DRM interoperability, supported by open DRM specifications of appropriate protocols between value-chain users supporting the functions they perform as the practical goal to achieve. DMP has provided a definition of DRM interoperability:

The technical ability of value-chain users to perform functions through interfaces and using protocols of open specification that can be independently implemented and provide predictable results.

But “specification of DRM” is easier said than done for at least three reasons

  1. There is no such thing as a “universal DRM system” to develop a standard for simply because there is no such thing as a “universal way of doing business with media”. We can only think of a range of implementations of DRM systems that satisfy the needs of specific value-chain users.
  2. Digital technologies have forced changes on media value-chains and they are likely to keep on doing so. Therefore it is impossible to standardise functions performed in existing value-chains as we do not know how today’s value-chains will evolve in the future.
  3. Standards are useful because they provide interoperability to users, but one must make sure that it will be possible to inject innovation into the system, because we do not know the functions that will be performed in future value-chains 

Therefore DMP engaged in the standardisation of protocols for functions at a more atomic level – that DMP calls primitive functions – which are executed between value-chain users. Examples are identification of content and devices, expression of rights to content, authentication of devices, access to content etc. Functions performed by value-chain users are obtained through combinations of primitive functions. The specification retains the ability to support new roles in the value-chain by combining existing and primitive functions.

As most of the work needed to develop primitive functions has already been done by MPEG, DMP has concentrated in the development of some missing technologies and in the creation of an integrated collection of technologies, the Interoperable DRM Platform. The resulting solution offers some distinctive advantages

  1. The specifications are industry agnostic, i.e. Users are free to build a great variety of Value-Chains that suit their business models by combining just the Tools that are appropriate for them;
  2. The capabilities of a Value-Chain or new Value-Chains can be extended by adding more Tools, possibly through additional standardisation;
  3. The cost to access standardised Tools may be reduce because in general Tools have multiple usages and may be provided by multiple suppliers;
  4. Full interoperability can be achieved within a Value-Chain;
  5. An enhanced degree of interoperability can be achieved between different Value-Chains;
  6. Innovation can be continuously fed into the system.

DMP has made significant investments in the development of the IDP Reference Software written in the Java language and released as Open Source Software. DMP has trademarked the name Chillout for its IDP Reference software.

DMP has also strived to bring to international standardisation the result of its activities. This is the complete list of its achievements on this space

  1. Extension of the REL standard. This has triggered the development of Amendment 2, Dissemination & Capture (DAC) Profile of MPEG-21 Part 5: Rights Expression Language developed on the basis of submissions made to MPEG by DMP members
  2. Conversion of the IPMP-X standard to an XML format. This has triggered the development of part 3 of MPEG Systems Technologies (MPEG-B) XML Representation of IPMP-X messages, again on the basis of submissions made to MPEG by DMP members
  3. Submission of some 90% of the IDP specification to international standardisation. This has triggered the development of Part 5 of Multimedia Application Format (MPEG-A) Media Streaming Application Format on the basis of submissions made to MPEG by DMP members. This huge work has been completed in 15 months
  4. Proposal for MPEG eXtensible Middleware (MXM). This has triggered the development of the ISO/IEC 23006 standard on the basis of submissions made to MPEG by DMP members. The 1st edition of Part 3 of MXM – Reference Software is entirely based on Chillout and Part 4 – MXM Protocols v. 1 is based on protocols developed by DMP. Version 2 of ISO/IEC 23006, rechristened as Multimedia Service Platform Technologies, with the MPEG-M acronym, was approved in April 2013.
  5. Contribution of Open Media Marketplace (OMM) to MPEG. This has triggered a complete revisiting of MPEG-M Part 4, now called Elementary Services, and the development of Part 5 Service Aggregation. Both parts are fully based on DMP ideas and contributions made by DMP members.

DMP has also been active on the “political” front by responding to four consultations:

  1. Comments on the Final Report of the High Level Group on Digital Rights Management
  2. Response to European Commission on “Creative Content Online” consultation
  3. Response to UK Intellectual Property Office’s request for comments on Proposed Changes to Copyright Exceptions”
  4. Response to the European Commission Green Paper

In 2011 DMP started the Open Connected TV (OCTV) project with the idea that while there is a lot of talk about “Connected TV”, implementations are largely proprietary. This is a major impediment to the development of a promising new market of content, products, services and applications that can be overcome by creating the conditions for the development of such a market, i.e. by providing a specification and an industry-grade standards-based implementation. If adopted these can be used to enrich one-way TV services with support to interoperable multichannel two-way content access and delivery.

Therefore the purpose of the Open Connected TV project was defined as:

To develop a specification and an industry-grade implementation of an Open Connected TV platform based on international standards through an open collaborative process.

DMP has developed a specification and commissioned an implementation of OCTV. Since October 2012 the OCTV software is available to DMP members for commercial use subject to the OCTV licence.

In conclusion DMP has successfully executed its mission by accomplishing 3 phases of work:

  1. Development of the Interoperable DRM Platform specification and experimentation with submission of proposals and contribution to the development of international standards
  2. Development of the notion of and some supporting technologies for Open Media Marketplace, and submission of proposals and contribution to the development of international standards
  3. Development of specification and implementation of Open Connected TV (OCTV)