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DRM and Walled Garden Mindset Under Attack

The media world is experiencing an abrupt change in thinking about imposing sharp limits on the ability of consumers to freely move digital content around, according to Kagan Research.

Equipment, software and content companies collaborated for years to perfect closed proprietary systems, such as Apple's successful iPod and iTunes combination -- with music and video files intentionally designed not to play on other hardware platforms.

But government regulators and consumers are now pressing for content to be open and portable across multiple platforms. They detest digital rights management (DRM) software that defeats cross-platform interoperability -- which in turn forces consumers to buy the same song or video for each of their different devices.

Apple chief Steve Jobs says he's in favor of eliminating anti-copying software and there's a growing list of countries pressing to eliminate such draconian DRM barriers, especially France. The U.S. mobile phone service providers are making some of their content and navigation interoperable, abandoning a prior stance favoring closed walled-garden systems.

While the tide seems to be turning, the industry is still divided. Warner Music said it disagrees with the Apple assessment, and Microsoft's slow-selling Zune solution was launched with intentional limits to media portability.

Advocates of free cross platform movement argue that when content is legally purchased the buyer has the right to consume the content on an assortment of personal devices. Government regulators show increased sympathy to that view.

The issue is not completely new because digital video recorders, which capture streamed TV content to be viewed on demand, are devices that move content across platforms. DVRs are installed in one fifth of digital cable and satellite households, according to Kagan Research.

While some expect the removal of cross-platform barriers is imminent, Kagan sees the horizon in terms of several years. They reason that consumers are already puzzled digesting the introduction of high definition DVD players and the conversion to digital terrestrial broadcasting.

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