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Major Players:
 Microsoft
 Real Networks
 Macrovision

Special Cases:
 IBM
 Intertrust
 Sony
 ContentGuard

Smaller Vendors

Vendor Graveyard

Other DRM Markets

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DRM Technology Vendors


There are no publicly-owned companies with a sustained record of making profits by selling DRM technology, at least in the world of PC content. Many companies have gone bankrupt trying - see our DRM Vendor Graveyard.

Microsoft and Real Networks have subsidized side lines in PC DRM, which they give away free to bolster dominance of their player technologies. On a similar note, Macrovision - although it does SELL DRM products, uses VCR-related income to subsidize R & D and acquisitions in support of DRM. And ContentGuard should be making a killing from their IP licensing, although that's unofficial tell since they're privately held.

IBM seems to have missed the boat on DRM, as their EMMS music system is completely unheard of in North America despite the boom in onlkine music.

Smaller players who are still functioning in the DRM technology business have a separate page here.

Note that the significant players on this page are primarily in the business of protecting music and video. 2004 saw the emergence of the "Enterprise" category - protecting B2B (business-to-business) content rather than B2C (business-to-consumer) content. Authentica is the current leader in space. The technology vendors in other spaces - software and ebooks for example - are all still smaller players at this point.

Finally, we have a paragraph on other DRM markets which acknowledges markets, such as Satellite TV, which use DRM of a sort not delved into in further detail by this site.

The Majors:
Microsoft, Real, and Macrovision

These have the luxury of subsidizing DRM products if it is strategic to do so.

Microsoft

has a separate page here.

Real Networks

Real Networks, like Microsoft, does not sell DRM technology as such. Their Media Commerce Suite for media servers includes DRM capabilities - notably content encryption and run-time license generation. On the desktop side, The "Media Commerce Upgrade" for RealPlayer (apparently already downloaded to millions of consumers) is a tamper-resistant playback environment that can obtain and enforce content licenses.

Relative to Microsoft, Real's technology is very portable, supporting non-Windows platforms - including mobile ones - at both client and server. They have taken great pains to interwork with other DRM systems, notably FairPlay, although the owners of other DRM systems are less than enthusiastic.

RealNetworks also had DRM capabilities for software - e.g. games as opposed to audio/video - incorporated into its "RealArcade" games service. Some of this technology was acquired by purchasing Aegisoft in 2001. However this does not seem to be a priority as it is given very little coverage at their Web site.

Real is trying to make a go of it in the online music space, but it's hard being behind Microsoft when Microsoft is already a distant second to Apple. One way to ensure a music site uses their player is to buy it like they did with the Rhapsody music portal in 2003. Some people think RealPlayer is in the same position Netscape Navigator was in the mid 1990s - a good technology that is destined to be clobbered by the Microsoft juggernaut.
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Macrovision

Macrovision is arguably the one company that generates real profits from the sale of Digital Rights Management technology - albeit that most of it to date is in analog anti-copy technology for consumer video. This technology is incorporated into a substantial fraction of the world's VCRs and generates an enviable licensing revenue stream. Macrovision has used this extra cash for a series of technology acquisitions which expand the DRM markets available to them.

Recently years they have focused on anti-copy technology for Audio CDs.This market has enormous potential given industry concern about loss of revenue due to large-scale CD copying on PC burners- but it also carries substantial risks in terms of user acceptance, and the technical "art of the possible."

Even if this market does not pan out, however, Macrovision is in a much better position than many other companies as it has many other sources of DRM-related revenue. They are well-connected to the content community, with ongoing involvement in emerging anti-copy proposals. Macrovision also has one of the best collection of DRM-related Patents in the world, many of them gained through acquisitions.

The fundamental challenge for Macrovision, however, is to continue to have ongoing revenue streams from mass-licensed anti-copy technology in an increasingly digital world. Recent forays include Rip Guard to prevent ripping of video from DVDs (a toughie) and "Hawkeye", another spin on legitimizing P2P.
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Special cases:
IBM, Intertrust, Sony, and Contentguard

Before going to the host of smaller vendors here are four cases of special interest.

IBM

IBM is a huge company with a lot of security expertise and DRM IP that evidently doesn't want to sell DRM products. The have a music DRM offering, EMMS, which shows careful engineering for security. However EMMS is almost unknown in North America and it's doubtful EMMS has a future at IBM. They have abandoned similar technology before - such as Cryptolopes, which were discontinued in the late 1990s before ever seeing commercial use.

IBM was a premature booster of the TCPA (and more recently, TCG) standard for hardware-assisted PC security, trying to sell laptops containing the technology before applications or O/Ses could leverage it.

IBM made an interesting foray into domestic DRM with the xCP project. The idea is intriguing: a way to enable unfettered "domestic" fair use by grouping networked domestic devices into a single DRM domain. This doesn't match the current notions of fair use very well, but it's at least an interesting idea. However it doesn't seem to have gotten far beyond the 2003 lab demo.

In the end, staying on the DRM sidelines is a business decision - and maybe a good one for IBM. Unlike Microsoft or Real, IBM has little motive to give DRM capability away for free. They are members the DRM licensing bodies 4C Entity and 5C Entity, presumably because they have DRM-related IP which can provide them revenue without actually selling DRM products.

Intertrust

Intertrust was acquired by a consortium of Sony and Philips for $US 450 million, and ceased trading on the NASDAQ exchange in January 2003. They always were more interested in suing other DRM companies (or threatening them into obtaining licenses) than in selling product of their own - and it finally worked, big-time. In 2004 Microsoft made a settlement of over $400 million to extract themselves from prolonged litigation with Intertrust. Now that this has been accomplished, it will be interesting to see whether Intertrust continues to exist - it has no product value, but perhaps brand value in the Intellectual Property arena.

Sony

Due to its congolmerate nature (i.e. content plus playback devices), Sony, more than any other business, has to "eat their own cooking" when it comes to DRM. If their technology branches produce or promote DRM which fails - either by discouraging access or by facilitating worsened piracy - their content branches suffer.
But Sony continues to shoot themselves in the foot thanks to their long-established "Not Invented Here" (NIH) attitude, as exemplified by their quirky, proprietary Anymusic service, which will hardly keep the iTunes folks up at night. Their partnered acquisition of Intertrust and licensing of technology from ContentGuard shows they understand IP. Clearly however, their interest in IP is not so much in using the ideas of others as to ensure that their DRM technology will not get bogged down in patent lawsuits. More recently, Sony showed a bit more savvy when it abandoned CD anti-copy, irecognizing that it alienated consumers and prevented legitimate copying of tunes to portable players - including those built by Sony.

ContentGuard

A DRM technology company spun out from the famous Xerox PARC research institute in the year 2000. It has since been taken over by a consortium of Microsoft, Time Warner, and Thomson, no doubt to ensure that the Microsoft camp has enough patents to stand up to the Sony/Philips/Intertrust triumvirate. ContentGuard is a small company with a large IP-based revenue stream and seems not to be living in the same reality distortion field as some others in the space. Their CEO, Michael Miron, sounded downright sensible in this interview with the Register in early 2005.

Other DRM Markets

These pages are concerned with DRM as it applies to mass-market content which is either distributed over the Internet, or likely to wind up "unofficially" distributed there. Today, this includes software, ebooks, documents, audio, images and video. These content types all wind up on PCs - whether they were intended to or not - so the PC is the reference platform for mass-market DRM.

Other kinds of technology which would be thought of as DRM, which we don't go into here, include:

  1. Conditional Access, the term of art for protection technologies for satellite television broadcasts. This is a high-security arms race supplied by established - and often profitable - vendors such as NDS.
  2. Terrestrial cable television descramblers & set-tops, such as those from Scientific-Atlanta. Parts of these systems may be common with satellite systems as above e.g. NDS is a supplier to several set-top builders.
  3. Enterprise security solutions providing managed access to corporate resources for authenticated users e.g. VPNs, single-sign-on etc. Typically these solutions are smart-card based, such as those from ActivCard.