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Digital Music body announces anti-piracy technology

SDMI watermarking system to be provided by ex-RIAA VP's company

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The music industry-led Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI) yesterday announced its chosen copyright protection technology for phase one of its hardware specification. And the winner is (rips open gold envelope): Aris Technologies for its 1998 album, MusiCode. Aris' watermarking system will now be built into emerging SDMI-compliant devices, such as digital music players from Philips and Matsushita, and future versions of Diamond Multimedia's Rio. It will also ultimately be used to stamp official SDMI-compliant digital music files. During the SDMI's Phase I period, players will essentially play any music track downloaded to them, including those encoded in the MP3 format. However, when Phase II begins, and neither the SDMI nor the broader music industry has said when this will take place, players will need to be upgraded in order to play tracks using the Phase II watermark. Upgraded players will still play old MP3s, Phase I SDMI-compliant tracks and whatever other formats the manufacturer chooses to support, but pirated Phase I and Phase II tracks will be rejected. Of course, that's the plan, but fears remain that the music industry may well be tempted to use Phase II to render all pre-Phase II music formats obsolete -- the original idea behind the SDMI's two-stage implementation process. The concern here was that when the SDMI's specification becomes a standard part of all audio equipment, as it surely will, Phase II would, say, prevent a new CD player from playing pre-Phase II discs. In fact, this is probably unlikely to happen in any event, since by this point the consumer electronics and music industry will be pushing DVD Audio, and winning consumer support for that format will largely be contingent on ensuring backwards compatibility. Speaking of DVD Audio, it's interesting that the 4C Entity, a joint venture between Toshiba, IBM, Intel and Matsushita, yesterday said it too had selected Aris' watermarking technology as the basis for its own DVD Audio anti-piracy system. And what's this we see: Aris' president is one David Leibowitz who just so happens to be a former Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) executive VP and general counsel. The RIAA has, of course, been at the forefront of the anti-MP3 movement and the subsequent formation of the SDMI. Online conspiracy theorists are going to love this... ®

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