DRM to infect Flash soon, Adobe hints

Digital rights management — otherwise known as DRM or “not letting you consume media even if you’ve paid for it” — looks to be coming to spread its blight onto the Flash platform

While Adobe-owned Flash can be used for a wide range of interactive online widgets and animations its most prominent application has been as an online video delivery mechanism utilised by YouTube the ABC’s iView and many other content delivery providers. Adobe estimates that 80% of all Web video is delivered via Flash. Developers like Flash because it makes it possible to deliver effective streaming video without requiring ridiculous amounts of bandwidth and because the Flash player technology has long been available on most popular PC platforms including Windows Mac and Linux.

Despite the focus on streaming however it’s not difficult to make copies of Flash video for your own purposes (and became less so when Adobe added support for MPEG 4 files in 2007). There are dozens of tools for downloading video footage from YouTube and other Flash-dependent sites. That didn’t represent much of a piracy threat with low-res videos but with many video sites now offering HD material it could become more of an issue.

Perhaps that helps explain a slightly strange announcement from Adobe earlier this week where it said it was forming a partnership with US media giant Time Warner. The purpose of this alliance? To “foster collaboration on the development of next generation video and rich media experiences”. OK that just sounds like the usual PR drivel but the next sentence of the release is more telling: “As part of the alliance these companies will also collaborate to accelerate the development of digital rights management for the Web and desktop and metadata and audience measurement solutions to improve the discovery and monetization of content.”

In real-world terms that means Adobe (and the Time Warner gang) would really like to work out a way to stop people freely exchanging content online when someone somewhere could be making money from it.

Details of what might emerge from this alliance are slight but the companies apparently plan to “deliver Internet video beyond the desktop to secure Internet connected devices to provide consumers with video content when how and where they want it”. In other words: why convert something to view it for free on your phone when we can lock your content to a single device?

This would be a more disturbing development if we thought there was much chance of any of this stuff sticking. For one thing with everyone else running away rapidly from DRM — most significantly it’s going slowly from the iTunes store — by the time this gets built there’s a good chance absolutely no-one would be interested. And given Time Warner’s track record with tech integration (AOL merger anyone?) there’s not too much to worry about.