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The lack of interoperable (and thus standardized) solutions is stalling the deployment of advanced multimedia packaging and distribution applications although most of the individual technologies are indeed already present. This motivated MPEG (ISO/IEC JTCl SC29 WGI I) in June 2000 to start working on the definition of enabling normative technology for the multimedia applications of the 21st century: MPEG-21 "Multimedia Framework." MPEG-21's approach is to define a framework to support transactions that are interoperable and highly automated, specifically taking into account digital rights management (DRM) requirements and targeting multimedia access and delivery using heterogeneous networks and terminals. This article first outlines the context and background of the MPEG-21 initiative. Then, an overview of MPEG-21 technology is given. Subsequently, it is discussed how MPEG-21 can provide solutions for universal multimedia access (UMA). UMA is also one of the use cases that has led to the creation of a new part in MPEG-21 dealing with digital item adaptation. Finally, this article concludes with an overview of MPEG-21 related activities and an outlook on future developments.