A dozen players tied to technology and publishing, including IBM Corp., Netscape Communications Corp. and Copyright Clearance Center, have formed the Electronic Rights Management Group. The committee, part of the Information Industry Association in Washington, hopes to encourage electronic commerce by agreeing on some standards.
IBM and start-up Electronic Publishing Resources, Sunnyvale, Calif., plan early next year to introduce systems allowing Web publishers to put content in locked "containers" that can be opened only by PC users who agree to pay and abide by other rights protections.
The scheme from EPR (http://www.epr.com), dubbed NetTrust, will allow for automated payment when someone opens the encrypted container.
IBM intends to offer a similar security device as part of infoMarket, a search service that scans various information sources, including Yahoo, for content. Starting next year, users will give payment information when they register.
"Our role is really to act as the mechanism for delivering the content and ensuring that it's done in a secure fashion and that the publisher gets paid for it," said Steve Isaacs, market support manager for infoMarket (http://www.infomkt.ibm.com/).
With IBM's service, PC users will read a description of the content. Payment is automatic if they then open the envelope.
Mr. Isaacs said IBM will take about 30% to 40% of revenues generated by content providers-it has agreements with 29 companies.
Security or no, it's not certain Internet users will pay for the information.
"It's going to be rather difficult, when there's so much free information, for companies to start selling information," said Victor Wheatman, research director for Electronic Commerce Strategies at Gartner Group, Santa Clara, Calif.