Sun is releasing its digital rights management (DRM) project under an open-source licence, claiming it wants to help create a unified standard in digital media.

The DReaM Project will be released in the coming weeks under the Common Development and Distribution Licence (CDDL) as the foundation for the Open Media Commons, said Jonathan Schwartz, Sun's president. Other companies will be invited to join the project.

"The whole concept here is we build on what exists, let's build on existing open-source licences that people trust," he said. "Let's build on the existing technology consortiums that work together."

A common, royalty-free DRM standard would allow digital content creators to get paid no matter what device a consumer is using, Schwartz added. As more and more devices - from wristwatches to big-screen television sets - become capable of handling digital content, DRM needs to work across all digital devices, all formats and all business models to avoid confusion in the marketplace, he said.

"We're clearly coming into a world where devices will no longer be built for their functionality; they will be built for their form," he said. "We have to have a solution that contemplates diversity. It cannot contemplate a single device, a single format, a single protocol."

A royalty-free version of DRM should be available as more people creating their own blogs or podcasts become content creators, he added. People outside large media organisations are creating compelling content and should have a way to protect it if they choose to, Schwartz said.

Sun didn't have any Open Media Commons partners to announce Sunday, but Schwartz said he's confident others will join, just as they did with the Liberty Alliance identity management project founded in September 2001. The Liberty Alliance now counts 150 companies, non-profits and government organizations as members.

While Schwartz suggested that users trust royalty-free open standards, that idea met some resistance. James DeLong, senior fellow and director of the PFF Center for the Study of Digital Property, questioned how Sun would make money giving away a project that it's already worked on for years. "In the end, Sun will need some revenue stream to support this," DeLong said.

Tom Giovanetti, president of the Institute for Policy Innovation, said Schwartz may be ignoring an economic incentive for creating a product such as DRM if he's trying to give it away for free. "Isn't it economically naive to say checking accounts are free and Google is free?" he said. "The fact that you don't pay for it doesn't mean it's free. You're failing to take into account alternative business models that ultimately result in a revenue stream to somebody."

The Internet itself is built on open standards like HTTP and Sun's Java, and many companies have found ways to make money on the Internet, Schwartz answered. "We drove Java because we thought the Internet needed a standard," Schwartz said. "The marketplace asked how we made money, but in the year 2005, we have $7.5 billion dollars in cash. So don't you worry yourself about that."