MP3 developer to head SDMI

Music industry body appoints executive director with a "repuation for neutrality"

The Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI), the music industry-led attempt to define a standard for digital music delivery, kicked off its first major meeting, held in Los Angeles last Friday. While the meeting was little more than a chance to discuss the SDMI's aims and organisational structure, it did begin with a hand been tentatively extended to the MP3 community. First, the organisation announced it had appointed Dr Leonardo Chiariglione as executive director. Chiariglione isn't well known in Net circles, but as one of leaders of the MPEG development process, he brings a close understanding of MP3 (or MPEG 1 Audio Layer 3, as it's more formally known). His proximity to the standards process should help to calm the fears of those in the MP3 community who believe the SDMI will ultimately become the play-thing of the music industry, to be used to dominate Internet-based music business. Chiariglione is still involved in the evolution of the MPEG standard, which is beginning to incorporate the kind of rights-protection technology that bodies like the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) have always slammed MP3 for lacking. Specifically, MPEG 4 will add content delivery tracking technology. Later during the meeting, the RIAA's executive VP and general counsel Cary Sherman, discussed the SDMI's role in detail, which now seems to be considering a more ecumenical approach than its early publicity as an MP3-smasher suggested. "We intend to achieve an infrastructure that will support every kind of consumer transaction involving music in the future," he said, adding that that infrastructure would "enable all music to be read and reacted to in a common way." And a spokeswoman added: "The SDMI is not attempting to select from a field of competing technologies, but to look for a way to marry multiple approaches." Essentially, the SDMI is seeking to develop a rights management specification that can work alongside existing technologies and format. MP3 can clearly play a part in that as much as formats like a2b and Liquid Audio that build in rights management data -- it's simply a matter of tying it specific levels of access and duplication freedom, as set by artists and publishers. Still, SDMI does have interests beyond the MP3 debate. It was also revealed that it is looking at ways of controlling access to music stored on existing formats, including CDs. However, the success of that programme will depend on hardware manufacturers adding the appropriate firmware to their drive, and the SDMI recognises this will take some negotiation to be made to work. ®

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