Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Orange plans DRM-free mobile music rentals

The UK branch of European cellular provider Orange hopes to have music rental services on its handsets without copy protection in as little as half a year, the company's music product director Brenda O’Connell says. Speaking at the MIDEM mobile conference, O'Connell explains that the digital rights management (DRM) that locks down tracks varies widely between computers and cellphones, making it all but impractical to have a unified but device-independent music service without removing DRM entirely. "We’re... very concerned about the fact that customers are really rejecting DRM," the Orange official says. "We want to launch not only a la carte services but subscription-based services, rental models. DRM is what’s holding us back at this point." O'Connell does not say how Orange would expect an unprotected rental service to work through conventional means, as the concept would expose any temporary files to illegal copying while they exist on the handset. One proposal, however, would see all content stored on Orange servers, allowing users to stream the music as often as they like while in range of a 3G wireless connection.

Omnifone's MusicStation service uses a similar concept today but uses protect files on the customer's phone as a form of local cache that permits listening to some music when the cellular link is switched off. Regardless of implementation, Orange content senior VP Herve Payan believes his firm should have all major labels onboard for the concept "in the next six months," but that only about 100 handsets available in the world today would be technically capable of supporting such a service. None of these have been named so far.

Separately, Payan also describes recent decisions with specific handset makers and notes that Orange agreed to unlimited data plans for Apple's iPhone in part because of its automatic bridging between EDGE cellular data and Wi-Fi, which makes a data cap impractical. "It is very important to have not just an iPhone but unlimited data because the device goes from mobile to Wi-Fi without telling you - if you don’t have an unlimited data subscription the bill can be quite costly," he says. The executive also notes that Orange is not averse to maintaining separate, copy-protected stores such as Nokia's Music Store at the same time. The carrier is in talks with Nokia to ensure that the store is an option but is clearly separate from whatever Orange offers, Payan adds.

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