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RealNetworks backs IBM digital music system

Streaming media specialist to create consumer front end to Project Madison

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IBM today announced RealNetworks has licensed its Electronic Music Management System (EMMS), a day ahead of Microsoft's much-anticipated announcement of its own entry into the race to set the standard for digital music delivery technology. Financial terms of deal were not disclosed, but from a practical standpoint the agreement will see RealNetworks develop a consumer-oriented front end for the IBM's technology, presumably one derived from its RealPlayer application. EMMS currently focuses on providing download facilities, rights management and e-commerce transaction handling, and leaves individual Web sites to manage how those features are presented to the user. That suggests RealNetworks was the prime mover in the deal with IBM -- it recognises the important part EMMS is likely to play in the emerging online music market. IBM's technology, better known as its codename, Project Madision, currently exists only in the lab, but the company is set to begin public trials in the San Diego, California area later this year. Madison has long had the backing of the 'big five' record labels, Sony, EMI, Warner, Universal and BMG, all of whom remain highly suspicious of Microsoft, which they believe to have designs on their own markets. That makes EMMS even more attractive to RealNetworks, which stands to do very nicely indeed out of the deal, especially if IBM promotes it as the system's non-Web interface if choice. For its part, Microsoft is expect to announce details of its plan to build an alternative to EMMS, one that's closely integrated with Windows 2000 at server, client and consumer levels (see MS to unveil digital music delivery system next month). Microsoft's offering centres on its own MS Audio 4.0 digital music format and, like, EMMS, provides the level of copyright protection the music industry wants to see before it commits to selling music via the Net. ® See also Microsoft readies MP3-killer digital music format MS to spend $15 million buying into online music market Sony enters digital music contest with MP3-beaterHMV to explore digital music distribution Big Blue, Big Five to unveil Net music system

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