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Universal signs InterTrust

'Big five' music label's music ecommerce project to take on IBM, Microsoft

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One of the world's 'big five' recording companies, Universal Music Group, has signed InterTrust to supply the rights management software that will form the basis of its online music sales activities. The deal comes just weeks after Diamond Multimedia licensed InterTrust technology to ensure future versions of its Rio digital music player prevent music piracy. Universal's goal here is to develop and presumably sell systems which combine big databases of audio files with the mechanisms needed to sell copies of those files across the Internet and ensure those copies can't be duplicated further, at least beyond a user's rights to copies solely for personal use. In that respect, it's setting itself up against Microsoft, which is touting its Windows Media Technologies (WMT) platform, and IBM's Electronic Music Management System (EMMS). Curiously, Universal has been working with IBM on the development of EMMS, providing tracks for the upcoming public trials of the technology due to take place in the San Diego, California area next month. Universal has already agreed to manage online sales of another 'big five' company, Germany's Bertelsmann Music Group (BMG), so it's setting itself to become a key music ecommerce player. Other 'big five' member Sony recently allied itself to EMMS, and is working with IBM to integrate its hardware-based MagicGate copy protection system into EMMS. Sony is believed to have agreed to work with 'big fiver' EMI, much as BMG is working with Universal. That leaves Time Warner -- will it side with one of its recording industry fellows, or back Microsoft's efforts? Bill Gates would probably kill to win its support for WMT, but given none of the big five are too keen on Microsoft -- they fear its domination of the online music business, as it has dominated the software market -- that's the least likely outcome. Time Warner is almost certainly awaiting the outcome of IBM's trials and no doubt the similar trials Universal and InterTrust are planning for the second half of the year. Since everyone and their dog is claiming they will ensure their solutions are compliant with the Secure Digital Music Initiative's recommendations, waiting for those recommendations to be published is no longer worthwhile. Of course, the one aspect all of these companies seem to have ignored to far is the client side. Online music retailers will be willing adopt various rights management and music delivery systems -- at least they will if they want to compete with the major labels selling direct -- but users aren't going to be too happy with a handful of player applications. Hopefully, the SDMI will have something to say on the matter by defining a standard mechanism whereby players can support multiple formats. In the meantime, expect RealNetworks to be pushing hard to win the support of Universal, Sony, EMI, InterTrust et al for its RealJukebox would-be universal player (see earlier story). ®

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