Intel chief executive officer Craig Barrett has called for the adoption of a worldwide digital rights management system that allows consumers the choice of how they manipulate the content they own.
Barrett criticised some existing or proposed systems for the restrictions they enforce. Barrett was speaking in Tokyo yesterday as part of a seminar to promote Intel's vision of the future digital home.
At the heart of the company's envisaged digital home is a set of standards that allow computer and consumer electronics devices to interconnect and communicate with each other.
Such standards are being developed by the Digital Home Working Group, of which Intel is one of 17 founding members, and the group is expected to publish its first specification during the next quarter. Devices based on the standard are expected to begin appearing in the second half of this year.
"What we want to do is be able to share content anytime, anywhere on any device," he said. "This is the whole concept of the home network in the digital home. It's making these devices interoperable so if you have content on one device you can share it on any other device at any time."
But the DHWG standard only addresses the technical interoperability of such devices and DRM technology is, potentially, a large spanner waiting to be thrown in the works of what the group is trying to accomplish.
Anyone who has obtained content from one of the licensed music download services, such as iTunes Music Store or Napster, may have experienced such problems already because of restrictions placed on copying or moving of the files. Many people have been frustrated to find that the DVDs they bought abroad will not play on otheir machines at home because of regional rights management.
"Once you see how easy it is to move content around, then sometimes you are faced with regulatory issues about what you can do with content that other people own," said Barrett.
"I think everyone involved in the Digital Home Working Group fully supports content protection that protects the people who own the content. But one aspect is when a consumer has access to the content, does the consumer have the right to move that content from device to device to device that they own in their home. The basic concept of the DHWG is the ability to use that content anytime, anywhere within your home once you've purchased it."
Barrett cited as an example a copy protection system that will be introduced on digital satellite and terrestrial broadcasting in Japan in April, which will allow consumers the ability to record a TV show but not the ability to make any copies of that recording.
Consumers will be able to move the recording, for example from a hard disc to a DVD, but some functions - such as editing of the recording to remove commercials or unwanted portions of a programme - will not be allowed.
"I think one of the barriers in Japan in terms of the full implementation of the digital home will be the copy-once policy and, rather than having a copy-once policy, I think its more appropriate to look at the digital contents rights management or protection capability that the industry across the world has been working on, the so-called DTCP or Digital Transmission Copy Protection over Internet Protocol [DTCP-IP]."
DTCP-IP is being developed by Intel along with Toshiba, Hitachi, Sony and Panasonic, and can be employed to allow content to be securely shared between devices within the home while preventing its passage to third parties.
Barrett also stressed the importance of such a copy protection system being a base worldwide standard from which any local or regional initiatives are built.
"I think this an area best left to the industrial members - the content owners, the consumer electronics manufacturers and the PC manufacturers - to deal with and government should take a stand-offish solution and not try to dictate solutions on top of those technical experts in the industry working on," he said.
While the adoption of a common standard would ease the transition to the digital home of Barrett's dream and also hasten market growth, the use of the DTCP-IP technology would also put Intel at the heart of potentially one of the most important future technologies.
Intel is a minor player in the consumer electronics space but is keen on making just as much a name for itself there as it has done in the computing field.
Earlier this year, Intel set up a $200m venture capital fund to invest in companies developing hardware, software and networking products for the digital home.
Martyn Williams writes for IDG News Service