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Anti-MP3 scheme back-tracks on CD compatibility

Initiative to protect future releases rather than past ones

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The recording industry-led Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI) could be back-tracking on draconian plans to eradicate existing music collections. Two weeks ago, at an SDMI session in London, details emerged of the organisation's two-step plan to eliminate the controversial MP3 format as a force in the digital music world (see Official secure music scheme to kill all non-compliant formats). Stage one would see the release of the SDMI specification, allowing devices to record and play back SDMI-compliant music formats and existing MP3 tracks. However, stage two, implemented through what a source close to the discussions called a "Millenium Trigger", would see devices reject non-compliant music formats. The plan, said the source, was to allow recording companies to begin issue digital tracks and CDs with SDMI-friendly anti-piracy data on board, then to "hit the switch" to block non-compliant formats. Unfortunately, for music fans -- but not, you'll notice for the recording companies, who get to sell your music collection to you all over again -- that would include existing, non-SDMI CDs. The reason? Phase two of the plan is designed to prevent people ripping CDs into MP3 files. However, it now appears that the SDMI is taking a more liberal stance, according to sources close to the organisation. Music fans will now be permitted to rip CDs, but the technology will prevent them from being posted on the Net -- or, rather, from being played back on someone else's equipment. Phase one and old files will, however, continue to be playable. "If it has none of the new markings, then it will be allowed in," the source told US newswires. "We're erring to the side of letting more in. What we're trying to avoid is a 'filling station' model, in which endless numbers of devices get fed from one CD." That means existing MP3s will still be played, as presumably will files illegally ripped from current, unmarked CDs and encoded using deliberately non-compliant MP3 applications. That defeats the object of the SDMI, you might think, but it may have a point. The source claimed the move is a sign the recording industry accepts it can't do as much as it would like to protect back-catalogue, so instead is concentrating on guarding new and future material from piracy. Given that most of the illegal MP3s circulating the Net cover recent releases rather than old stuff, the industry's plan makes some sense. It should also ensure our CDs collections remain safe. ®

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