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A New Spin on Sharing Copyrighted Content

Kim Hart

A company called Digital Containers launched today that wants to change the way content -- specifically, copyrighted content -- is shared over the Web. The Santa Monica, Calif.-based firm promises to finally let content owners deliver and -- drumroll, please -- actually profit from distributing TV shows, movies and songs over the Internet.

Here's how it works: Digital Containers works with media companies to "package" pieces of content, like an episode of "Lost," in a container with an encrypted seal. As it's passed from person to person, each new viewer that "unzips" the container agrees to either watch a few ads, or pay a few bucks, in exchange for getting premium content. When that viewer passes the container to another user, that person also starts a "relationship" with the media company that produced it. You may have to tell the company how old you are, or whether you're male or female, which then helps to sell ads. Or, if you happen to share a lot of Jonas Brothers' songs with friends, Disney may want to give you a reward or incentive for spreading the music and helping to build the brand.

Who knows if it will work, but it's a different approach that sounded pretty interesting.

And for those of you familiar with the local tech scene, you'll recognize the company's new CEO: Tom Patterson. You may remember him as the former head of Command Information, an IPv6-focused firm in Herndon. He was a staple at Washington area tech events for a while as well.

I had a brief chat with him this afternoon to get more details. The "container" allows content to be packaged in a way that provides a "richer experience," he said.

"Instead of just having a song, it comes in a container that's chock full of extras," he said. "A musician can include lyrics to the song, liner notes that typically come in albums, upcoming tour dates. They can integrate merchandise into the same container."

So how does Digital Container make money? It acts as the middle-man in the transaction, taking a piece of the revenue from a subscription fee, or T-shirt sale, that comes as a result of sharing the container.

The company's been around for over a decade, coming up with patents and developing its software, Patterson said. He's secured another $2 million and is officially relaunching the company.

Think the idea's a crazy one? Or just crazy enough to work?


By Kim Hart  |  August 13, 2008; 5:14 PM ET  | Category:  Kim Hart
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Let me guess, I have to download and install some software that uses Windows Media DRM. I won't be able to play the media on any platform that doesn't use the software, including on my portable device or on any computer that doesn't use Windows for its OS.

Fail.

Posted by: M Street | August 13, 2008 6:34 PM

I'll admit it sounded like one of the Windows-only schemes that has made MSFT such a darling (cough), but I actually beta tested this product, and it works on my Mac, a Linux box, as well as two kinds of PDAs. Basically anything that can play a flash file can make it work (even Windows Media player for those stuck with it :)

My vote: Pass

Posted by: MAB | August 13, 2008 9:12 PM

There's a key element missing from the article. If you receive a 'Lost' episode and 'unzip' it after watching an ad, why would you send me the digital container, with all the hassle it might entail, instead of the movie file??

If the response is that the unzipped file is 'protected' in some way, then we get right back to all the concerns about backing up, writing music out to a CD to play on any old player, etc.

Posted by: SAD | August 14, 2008 2:46 PM

The idea may or may not have its flaws-- but I love the direction. We all know what we want... digital freedom + content creators not being starving artists. Conscientious pirates; we want what we want when and where we want it: but we don't want the people making what we want to be miserable and go on strike.

Pass if not for the method, than at least the direction.

Posted by: dCLCp | August 14, 2008 7:20 PM

Watch the first few minutes of "There will be Blood", heed the warning against "middlemen" who promise big, provide nothing, and hope to suck out the profits.

This is just, yet another value-subtracted vendor.

Posted by: Sorry. | August 15, 2008 7:03 AM

Will you share the source code for the container so I can be sure it's not loading all kinds of spyware, adware, etc. on my devices? No? Fail.

Posted by: killick | August 15, 2008 10:48 AM

yasmin contraception

Posted by: yasmin | August 16, 2008 12:09 PM

Great story, thank you for providing it.

For those who hate 'longer' posts: Here is all you should read: Yes-Pass-Irony; Maybe, but probably not - don't assume; Can't agree - Pass; Valid Point; Idea and Idea; Couldn't disagree more and I still see blood; lol; Some thoughts; Please stop 'anti-consumer' anti-business policies.

For those that don't mine longer posts and enjoy sharing ideas, please read on!


Yes-Pass-Irony
M. Street you are right on the money. I have already stopped using applications by third party vendors (a couple that I have used for over a decade) because they insisted that I update to the newest version of Microsoft OS. I have found in every case 'superior' products in the open systems market place. (So perhaps I need to say Thank you to Microsoft!) One of those third party vendors was put out of business by Microsoft...how is that for irony. ;-)

Maybe, but probably not - don't assume:
MAB you did not say if it 'required' either a specific browser (IE), or a specific Vendor's software...if it does, you are wrong, it fails. Only I decide what to run on my laptop, desktop, server and handheld. Only me! I might not want to run Adobe, Microsoft, Internet Explorer, WINE, Flash, etc, etc, etc, .... the list goes on. We should not assume, should we!


dCLCp is Can't agree – Pass
right, the need to monetize while protecting developer / creator rights is critical and good for the industry. At least this might be another option for some. Remember that the current contracts between the larger media companies and the creative artists state that the artists will NOT make any (or very little) money in this area for the foreseeable future! If this gives the artist another way to maintain control of the content, then its a WIN for everyone and a PASS!

Valid Point:
SAD / killick - valid points, whatever software is in the container must not execute without user approval, no matter what. Videos that you play now, if they don't infect you now, than they should not affect you then. Same with docs and audio. Let's face it the Codecs whether free or proprietary exist for all now, no need for anything new to be 'force' on the content user for any reason! ...that would cause it to FAIL!

Idea and Idea:
How about sending a link and streaming that content, after paying and/or watching an ad, to the harddisk (in my TV, DVD, Computer) so that I can watch it without clogging my bandwidth. Would be a great bit torrent or compression type of application. Drop a compressed file down, let my devices decompress software do the work after I scan it for viruses. No point in streaming all the bits and bytes uncompressed. Also by having it in my home, on my DVD's harddisk, I can watch it as long as I have power...nothing more frustrating then having a business (Cable, IT Dept, etc...) limit what I can store because they 'chose' to store the content on their server. Or worse yet, knowing that I have space available to store content, but they erase it to save space on their server...a decision they made for me. Hey, my harddisk in my DVD has plenty of room. I am so tired of 'customer - no service' 'anti-consumer' business decisions made for me because you mistakenly think I will pay 50% more for 'one bill'. LMAO.


Couldn't disagree more and I still see blood:
Sorry - there is a reason he had to build the pipeline. And had that owner developed his own well-pipeline ... (look at Show Time, Sci-Fi and HBO...talk about more original content) That same reason exists here now for creative content. The more providers of content, the more delivery systems of that content, the better off we will all be. When you limit choices, rather than innovate, we all lose, look at Hi Speed Cable / DSL Access in the US compared to the 13 other countries that are faster than us! (100 Mbps / 100 Mbps for $25 - $40 per month is available in other countries, but not here in the US) Personally I would like the option to view ads or pay per view to see a three dimensional play in the middle of my living room one day. Size is not the issue as it can be scaled, but you must be able to deliver the content. In the United States, we are 'throttled' without options in many zip codes. That is SAD.

yasmin - thoughtful and funny.


Some thoughts:
If Requires Auto Update - Fail

If Requires Install Anything - Fail

If Requires any one vendor's software whoever they are - Fail.

If Requires any one vendor's network (i.e. cellular when WiFi will work just fine) - Fail.

If Allows me to view, see, use play, work with with my desktop without modification to my desktop (whether Linux, MacIntosh, Microsoft or handheld) - WIN WIN WIN WIN. I chose to pay or watch an ad in order to view / use... Definitely will pass.

As far as someone removing the content from the bucket and only forwarding the contents, interesting technological problem, but NOT a show stopper at all. I can think of multiple ways around this issue off the top of my head - NON Issue.

It would be fun to be the Program / Product Manager for this product! Very Exciting whoever you are, I hope you realize that!

Please stop 'anti-consumer' anti-business policies:
Remember the Mac, Linux, Microsoft and Hand Held devices all already have software to view videos, read documents, view PDF documents, etc... There is only 'anti-consumer' 'anti-business' reasons to require anything more!


Posted by: lamapper | August 16, 2008 10:07 PM

This is not new, the news website Salon.com has been offering premium content in exchange for watching an ad for a few years now.

Posted by: welshlion | August 19, 2008 5:27 PM

Hello to members of this site please to have joined your forum.

Posted by: lokpbai | August 20, 2008 1:37 AM

It won't have the abundant "free choice" of media like the existing model.

Posted by: blogger | August 20, 2008 9:23 AM

It won't have the abundant "free choice" of media like the existing model.

Posted by: blogger | August 20, 2008 9:32 AM

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