Attacking MP3 Music Pirates

Tim Byars (
Tue, 29 Jun 1999 18:35:04 -0700

by Daniel Frankel
June 29, 1999, 12:45 p.m. PT

The music industry is apparently done griping about Internet piracy and has
moved onto the doing-something-about-it phase.

After forming a consortium with various electronics manufacturers and
technology developers--the Secure Digital Music Initiative, it's called--a
plan has been made so that future versions of portable digital music
recorders won't be able to play pirated music off the Internet.

Currently, portable devices such as Diamond Multimedia's hugely popular Rio
player allow you to download music off the Net--compressed in the
controversial MP3 format and uploaded by pretty much anybody--without
paying for it.

In the case of independent bands, such digitial distribution is usually
condoned. But when the tunes are illegally copied, it becomes piracy, and
the five big music players, BMG Entertainment, EMI Recorded Music, Sony
Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group, have
been plenty unhappy about it.

So, after a just-completed round of Los Angeles meetings with tech
companies such as Diamond, the SDMI consortium agreed on the following:

* Music publishers will include encryption coding on their future CDs
that will make playback impossible when the contents have been pirated;
* Electronics manufacturers will build their digital music portables
based on software that will read this encryption and block pirated tunes.

Of course, it's going to take some time for the specification to work its
copyright-protecting magic--the standards will take effect on CDs and
players that haven't been made yet, much less sold to consumers. (The SDMI
will meet next week to finalize and ratify their solution.)

The ideal scenario for the music biz is that, in the near future, digital
music consumers will be limited to the following options: transferring (or
"ripping") tunes from CDs they've purchased themselves onto their players;
or downloading the music off the Net from its legitimate publisher
and--gasp!--paying for it.

So far, the electronics guys are playing along--representatives from
portable manufacturers Diamond and Creative Labs promise their future
models will support the SDMI standard.

Still, don't look for the MP3 movement to fade out fast. "I believe
hardware manufacturers have a vested interest [in supporting MP3]," Jupiter
Communications analyst Mark Mooradian tells USA Today. "I don't see that
changing in the near future."


If Bill Gates had a nickel for every time Windows crashed... oh wait, he does.