SA: A number of online music stores, where you can legally download music for a fee, have started a profitable business. (Apple¿s iTunes, the leading online music store, reported in March that it had sold its first 50 millions tracks.) Are they a solution for the future?
LC: I don¿t see these systems as a solution in the long run, because they put too many limits on the users. The music is watermarked or encrypted with Digital Right Management [DRM] algorithms and is then decrypted by your player. The problem is that every store has its own proprietary system, which is incompatible with the others. Consequently, you can play music on your PC, but not in your salon CD player or in your wife¿s car, for example, because they use different systems. Where is the digital experience if you can¿t enjoy your music as easily as you did before with a disc or a cassette? Eventually people will say, "Let¿s go back to making MP3 copies. They are illegal but at least I can do what I like with them."
SA: How could you resolve this stalemate?
LC: What we need is a system that guarantees the protection of copyrights but at the same time is completely transparent and universal. With the Digital Media Project [DMP] we are working to develop a format that meets these requirements. The system will be nonproprietary, meaning that any manufacturer will be allowed to incorporate it into its products. It will also be designed to manage digital rights in a flexible way. For example, you could play a specific title until a certain date, or you could buy a subscription allowing you to play anything you want for a given period. People could even swap files on the Internet, as long as they have the right to play them. If DMP becomes the industry standard, you will be able to use music or video files as you do today with MP3 files, but legally. This will open endless opportunities.
SA: Can you build such a system with the current technology ?
LC: We don¿t know yet which technologies will be included in the format, since the DMP has just begun and we won¿t come out with full technical specifications before two years from now. However, I believe that most of the technology is already there. Formats for the compression of audio and video have attained excellent quality, and some standards, such as MPEG-21, are also designed to program which rights come with your copy [a 15-day license, for instance]. Our approach will be to integrate existing technologies and develop new ones only if we need to.
SA: With a universal platform wouldn¿t it be a disaster if the copyright protection were cracked?
LC: I don¿t think you can build a crack-proof system. But you can design one in which the algorithms used for copyright protection don¿t come as hardware but as software, so that you can update them with an Internet or wireless connection if they are cracked. Also, every manufacturer could choose its own algorithms, as long as they are compatible with the universal standard. However, our purpose is not to fight piracy. We want to create the right conditions so that users can enjoy a full digital experience legally and without the current limitations. I believe that this will remove many of the incentives that exist today for piracy.
SA: What do you envision for the future of digital media?
LC: I believe that there are hundreds of possible applications just waiting to be invented.The real value will be in providing the users with new experiences. When every published music or video is available on the Web you will need tools to catalogue and find these files. With MPEG-7, for example, you can create a simple description of a multimedia file that can be used by search engines. In the future we will have new generations of search engines in which you will directly enter music or video sequences. Software will interpret the content and compare it to millions of files on the Web, much as you do today for Web pages. You will discover new music and movies you didn¿t even know existed that have something in common to yours, and you will be able to access any kind of information about your tracks. The cultural impact of that would be immense. I also see a great potential for peer-to-peer. It¿s a wonderful system. If it is used to distribute contents legally, it will create new business opportunities.