Two days ago, I wrote about The Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem's (DECE) Ultraviolet DRM initiative. More than 60 content, distribution, consumer electronics, DRM and services companies have joined DECE to build a uniform DRM-neutral platform for controlling content access and making content available to multiple devices.
Ultraviolet is based on the premise that consumers will purchase physical media--CDs, DVDs and Blu-Ray discs--and will want to play the content stored on that media on a variety of devices. Today, consumers can "rip" content to hard drives and personal media players. That's illegal under the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) if they circumvent any security systems in order to copy the content, but it's fairly easy to do. As I understand Ultraviolet, when consumers purchase a Blu-Ray disc (for example), they will be able to access a copy of the movie on the disc in an online "digital locker", and download that movie to personal computers and portable media players using the DRM system supported by each device. Ultraviolet will prohibit customers from making more copies or using the content on more devices than they're entitled to.
Ultraviolet is a way to keep most consumers from making copies of digital content themselves, but it primarily makes sense in a "physical media" world, or at least a world where every device requires its own local copy of content. However, we're moving to a streaming environment, where consumers increasingly never touch a piece of physical media and instead stream content from the cloud. Netflix, Amazon, Rhapsody, Microsoft's Zune Pass, Pandora and other services are based on this streamed, monthly subscription model. Apple is widely rumored to be planning to launch its own cloud-based subscription service later this year.
With streamed content, must less is needed in the way of DRM. A partial or complete copy of each song or movie is streamed to each authorized device while it's being played, but the copy is temporary ("ephemeral") and is deleted when the viewing or listening session ends. The biggest downside of streaming is that a high-speed connection is required while viewing or listening to the content. That makes it unusable on most airplanes and in other places with no broadband wireless Internet service. However, the range of places without service, and devices without at least a WiFi connection, is getting smaller every day.
By the time Ultraviolet gets fully defined and commercially implemented, it will probably be made obsolete by streaming media. As for the heavyweight DRM schemes that Ultraviolet is designed to simplify, they're likely to be replaced by authentication and encryption systems that are easier to implement, more standardized and more compatible across devices. The new DRM standard is likely to be a HTML5-compliant browser or its equivalent.