From his post as a senior engineer at an Italian telecom provider, Leonardo Chiariglione rose to prominence in the technical community as the man who successfully led the cross-industry Moving Picture Experts Group. The group's MPEG series of audiovisual compression standards gave rise to today's world of MP3 players, DVDs and digital TV broadcasting.
Although he has already helped lay the foundation for digital media, Chiariglione's greatest work may lie ahead. Today, he is concerned that the very digital media technology MPEG helped create is turning into a "destroyer of creativity," with the rise of wildly popular Web sites for sharing free music and movies.
The industry hasn't found an easy, legitimate way to let consumers enjoy digital media and still compensate those who created that digital content, Chiariglione contends. Thus, both the content and electronics industries are deprived of business opportunities for taking full advantage of the coming digital-media revolution.
In 1999, Chiariglione headed the Secure Digital Music Initiative, a cross-industry effort to define a common digital-rights management (DRM) scheme for digital music. But the effort failed because of the differing agendas of its participants and the still-nascent nature of the digital-music market at that time.
In July 2003, Chiariglione left his job at Telecom Italia to pursue an even broader ambition. He is now heading the Digital Media Project (DMP), an initiative to break the stalemate in the battle to define broadly useful technology for DRM. The work leaves him no time to tend the vineyard he
inherited from his grand-father, where the Chiariglione family produces wine intended for its own consumption.
"DMP is certainly taking a lot of my time these days, but I do that work with great pleasure," said Chiariglione. "It's like putting together Legos. If you make sure that you have the right pieces and that the pieces connect well, then you will make big things with Legos."