SanDisk Puts Copy Controls on Flash Cards

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SAN FRANCISCO -- SanDisk on Tuesday took a step it hopes will transform the mobile media business, unveiling a storage technology called TrustedFlash that integrates digital rights management (DRM) into a flash memory card.

Adding DRM will motivate providers of music, games, movies, and other content to sell those products for mobile phones, either as cards sold in retail stores or as downloadable files that can be put on a TrustedFlash card, said Eli Harari, president and CEO of SanDisk. Now, most content for mobile devices is locked to a particular device, partly because of concerns about piracy.

TrustedFlash "will enable a whole new world of opportunities in the mobile entertainment market by providing the flexibility that consumers are demanding ... while still meeting the security requirements that content providers need to have," Harari said.

Partners Sign On

TrustedFlash will be rolled out in the fourth quarter, Harari said. SanDisk is already supplying it to vendors in miniSD, microSD and SD card formats. A version of the Rolling Stones' album "A Bigger Bang" will be released on a TrustedFlash microSD or miniSD card select retail stores in November priced at $39.99, SanDisk announced with partners from EMI Group and Virgin Records at at the CTIA Wireless I.T. & Entertainment show here. That first release will also include band images and links to other Rolling Stones albums for sale, Harari said.

SanDisk also showed off a 4GB embedded flash memory component with the TrustedFlash technology, to be integrated into mobile phones, music players, personal media players, and Global Positioning System (GPS) devices. It takes up less than 4 percent of the space that a microdrive would take up, Harari said.

Consumers will be able to move content on TrustedFlash cards from one mobile device to another because the DRM is built into the card, Harari said. Depending on the DRM settings defined by the content provider, consumers also will be able to copy the content to a PC hard drive or other storage as backup a certain number of times, the company said.

The format is independent of particular DRM schemes, and the providers of existing DRM technologies, such as Apple, Microsoft, and the Open Mobile Alliance, have been invited to integrate their formats into the TrustedFlash format, Harari said.

SanDisk announced that Yahoo will bundle its Yahoo Music Engine with TrustedFlash cards, so users can directly subscribe to the Yahoo Music Unlimited service, listen to music on their phones, and play music from the cards on Windows XP and Windows 2000 PCs. In addition, Samsung Electronics will equip several handsets with SD card slots to use TrustedFlash, the companies announced.

Sony's similar security for use on Memory Stick flash media, announced last year, uses its own MagicGate DRM.

Wanted: Momentum

TrustedFlash cards can encrypt and decrypt multimedia files without sacrificing playback speed, according to SanDisk. Along with DRM, the cards include components for managing subscriptions, conditional access features such as renting content for a limited time, and commerce functions such as payment. The cards can be partitioned into storage for prepackaged content, downloaded content bought from a service provider, and the user's own content from a PC, the company said.

The TrustedFlash technology currently belongs to SanDisk, Harari said. It could be applied to any form factor, not just flash memory cards, he added.

PacketVideo, a multimedia software company in San Diego, is developing playback software to include on TrustedFlash cards, according to Bridget Cavanaugh, a PacketVideo representative. Multimedia files on TrustedFlash cards can now be played only on phones with the proper playback capabilities, but PacketVideo is working on software that could be integrated into the cards and bring those capabilities to any phone, she said.

TrustedFlash could dramatically change the market for mobile multimedia content, but a number of pieces would have to fall into place first, said Avi Greengart, a mobile device analyst at Current Analysis. More handset makers must embrace the technology before it becomes attractive for content providers to sell music and video on the cards, and preloaded cards will have to become a high-volume business to bring down the high starting price, he said.

"At $40, it's going to be a really tough sell," Greengart said.

Meanwhile, mobile operators may resist adopting phones with TrustedFlash slots because they don't want subscribers to be able to buy music or other content from retail stores instead of their own multimedia services, he said.

"For this to succeed, it requires the entire mobile device and content ecosystem to change," Greengart said.

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