NetActive looks to role as download police

Many people come to Las Vegas trying to make a quick buck. NetActive Inc., however, sauntered onto the Comdex trade show floor looking for customers with content to secure.

Ottawa-based NetActive has taken what it thinks is a unique approach to DRM (digital rights management). In the wake of music-swapping Web site Napster Inc.’s much publicized battle against media giants, it seems like just the right time for a company to strike that specializes in helping clients protect their content as it travels across the Net. The vendor has also attracted the attention of Microsoft Corp.

NetActive began life as a division of Nortel Networks Corp. where much of the company’s technology development occurred. Nortel decided to spin the unit off and is now one of the main contributors to the over US$20 million so far invested in NetActive.

NetActive looks to give clients unable to develop their own security technology a leg up in a world increasingly based on distributing content with downloads over the Web. The vendor provides applications that allow a game maker, for instance, to make sure a user has the right to download a game title and notifies the gaming company of any unauthorized access.

James Thielen, executive vice-president and chief operating officer at NetActive, said his company fingerprints a user’s machine with a key that allows the vendor to identify a user’s machine. When a user makes a request for a file protected by NetActive, the company’s servers process the request and grant or deny access.

For a game maker, or another type of content provider, this sort of marking system can be useful on several fronts. A company can monitor what time of day a user requested the file, what location the request originated from and how long the user spent on different applications. This service allows customers to track which of their services receive the most demand and how they might keep or attract new users. In addition, Thielen said companies could also run applications like sexual harassment training software and check on how many employees completed the course.

“We can record who has been through the complete program and who exited early,” he said.

NetActive has been in talks with Microsoft Corp. for some time regarding content services for the software giant’s Xbox gaming console due to appear some time next year. Microsoft might use the NetActive applications to protect downloads, to send users notification when a new version of their favorite games comes out, or advertisements to similar types of games, Thielen said.

NetActive can also give users a taste of trial software and then cut the users off after the trial period ends.

“There is a whole variety of information out there that customers never thought possible,” Thielen said. “We can watch them connect, and, if we see unauthorized use, we can simply disconnect them.”

NetActive delivers its security software along with a number of other applications that help customers increase their advertising push.

Disney Enterprises Inc. and General Mills Inc. recently turned to NetActive for help with a co-branded effort. Disney delivered one of its video games along with applications that provided information on links to the game into the plastic packaging around some General Mills cereal boxes.

Users took the box home, loaded up the CD and found not only the game but also links to other Disney products and offerings. NetActive controls the access to this additional content and helped develop the applications that went with it.

While the deal with Microsoft has not been finalized yet, NetActive thinks the 15 million pieces of content it currently protects may stand as a good testament to its success to date.

NetActive, based in Ottawa, can be reached at