Sony, IBM partner on digital music delivery system

Look out, Microsoft

IBM and Sony have agreed to integrate their respective digital music delivery technologies. The deal will see the two companies build Sony's MagicGate copyright protection system into Big Blue's Electronic Music Management System (EMMS). Can the announcement's timing, mere days after Microsoft's massive Windows Media Technologies (WMT) rollout, be a coincidence? Sony's contribution to the partnership, as reported The Register, is designed to limit the mechanical copying of digital information. MagicGate protects digital content stored on Flash cards, MiniDiscs and the like, while OpenMG adds the same functionality to computers. Both solutions use the same basic encryption and management software backed by hard-wired authentication system. MagicGate is a key component of Sony's Memory Stick technology, which it hopes will become the standard format for solid state digital music players such as its own upcoming Netman (see Sony president announces Netman digital music player). EMMS, meanwhile, is the full music delivery, rights management and e-commerce transaction handling system devised by IBM and already backed by the world's five largest recording companies, Warner, Universal, EMI, BMG and, of course, Sony. EMMS will form the basis for IBM's Madison Project, which begins public trials this summer. Earlier this week streaming media supremo RealNetworks publicly committed itself to supporting EMMS. RealNetworks' announcement came a day before Microsoft's. WMT combines streaming media and a discrete content download mechanisms, with e-commerce, copyright protection and rights management tools, all of which will compete directly with EMMS, MagicGate and RealNetworks' G2 system. But while WMT garnered much support from the Internet business community, it has so far failed to attract any big names in the music industry. EMMS has that support in spades, but lacks the backing of major music-selling Web sites. Sony's support for EMMS adds a powerful voice from a third community, the consumer electronics business. Sony has a pretty good record of getting its technologies accepted by other consumer electronics companies -- its failures, like MiniDisc, have generally provided formats and products that are unwanted. Memory Stick has a very good chance of being widely adopted because it's the only real solution at the moment. PC Card memory is seen as too computer-oriented; other technologies are only associated with digital photography. So, as consumer electronics companies turn to the music download market, either for portable systems or hi-fi separates, Memory Stick is likely to figure highly as a storage medium. And that will make EMMS very attractive as the system for supplying content to those players. ®

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