The history of Marlin – the open-standard DRM – and how it works

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By Team ExpressPlay


The importance of DRM services for preventing media piracy

With the unabated growth of global internet usage and continuous improvements in connection speeds, today’s media rights holders have unprecedented opportunities for global reach and distribution. Unfortunately, this has also spurred an explosion of internet piracy  as more and more hackers are seeking to steal and exploit high-value digital media like movies, TV shows, and live sporting events.

More than ever, commercial-grade content protection is critical for the success and future of over-the-top (OTT) delivered video services whether it’s Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, or any new Direct to Consumer (DTC) video streaming service. Yet, for rights holders to deliver valuable media securely while also preventing others from stealing their content presents complex challenges. Using digital rights management (DRM) technology, and in many cases combining it with other tools such as forensic watermarking and anti-piracy services offers an effective solution.

How are digital assets protected? DRM technology works by combining content encryption with advanced key management and an associated licensing policy that grants access for end-user devices that meet the criteria required by the policy.

The end result is that seamless modern multi-DRM services have transformed the media landscape – enabling streaming providers to create all-new pay-TV business models – and allowing more viewers to watch content whenever and where ever they want around the world.

The beginnings of Marlin

Understanding the importance of secure content distribution, Intertrust teamed up with the four biggest consumer electronics (CE) manufacturers in the world: Panasonic, Philips, Samsung, and Sony. Together, they created a DRM standard that would not only be used for their own devices, but also could be adopted globally. The result of this unprecedented collaboration was the 2005 release of Marlin, an open-standard DRM. 

Marlin’s global success

Since its launch, there have been many collaborations with device manufacturers, streaming services, and content rights holders. As a result, Marlin has become very popular globally. Companies worldwide are involved in Marlin’s membership as partners, adopters, developers, and trusted service providers. Several national initiatives and other standards bodies have adopted Marlin. It’s also one of the most widely used DRMs in Japan, China, and parts of East Asia. Moreover, Marlin powers the YouView initiative from the UK’s national broadcasters as well as the TivùOn service in Italy. 

The Marlin Development Community

Marlin is an open-standard DRM, which means that rather than being a proprietary technology owned and updated by its creators, Marlin is overseen by two organizations: The Marlin Development Community (MDC) and the Marlin Trust Management Organization (MTMO). 

The Marlin Development Community drives innovation and development within Marlin through an open community development process. They publish technical specifications for the Marlin standard as well as developer reviews and updates.

The Marlin Trust Management Organization is responsible for granting commercial licenses for using Marlin and underpins the key management element of Marlin PKI offerings. The MTMO also enforces the usage terms, a compliance and robustness regime, and handles Certificate Revocation Lists (CRLs) and Broadcast Key Blocks (BKB). These processes are essential for guaranteeing the interoperability, security, trustworthiness, and proliferation of Marlin.

The business case for Marlin

For the new age of digital media firms offering OTT streaming services, using a leading-edge DRM solution is an essential part of any business strategy and can guarantee greater monetization of assets and enhanced premium content licensing opportunities. 

As well as supporting all common pay-TV security and business models, a solution based on Marlin DRM allows for interoperability with the most common media formats and ensures a seamless user experience for their viewers.

Marlin’s open-standard approach also makes it more flexible for adapting to the needs of a rapidly changing business environment. Service operators won’t become locked down by proprietary solutions that can prevent them from taking advantage of new technologies and trends.

To ensure the widest reach possible, Intertrust’s implementation of Marlin – ExpressPlay – can be used across multiple devices. The pre-hardened binary client SDK enables Marlin DRM-protected playback in Android and iOS apps, allowing content providers to offer client-side enhancements such as offline playback with a minimum of complexity. Many devices already come with embedded Marlin DRM support and therefore will require no SDK. 

Intertrust ExpressPlay DRM service

Marlin is an open standard representing the leading edge of DRM technology and is one of the most widely used, flexible, and effective systems in the world. As one of the founding members and creators of Marlin, Intertrust has incorporated Marlin into our industry-leading ExpressPlay service.

Intertrust’s ExpressPlay security-as-a-service (SaaS), which is designed to support Marlin as one of several DRMs, has already provisioned more than two billion devices worldwide. The popularity of ExpressPlay hasn’t been fueled just by direct collaborators, but also through its proven interoperability that benefits pay-TV and OTT operators. It’s the only DRM service that supports all major DRMs such as Apple FairPlay, Google Widevine, Microsoft PlayReady, and Adobe Primetime in addition to Marlin DRM. This allows service providers to build a media distribution pipeline that can support all the major streaming and media formats. 

With many of the world’s OTT streaming services already being powered by ExpressPlay, the value and security Marlin delivers to its customers is clear.


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