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SDMI can't kill MP3 admits music industry

Latest legal campaign suggests piracy can't be beaten with technology after all

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Music business bruiser the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) today declared war on Internet-based music pirates with a plan to launch major legal assaults on Web sites across the world. Surprise, surprise. It would be odd indeed if the IFPI didn't take such action as part of its ongoing battle against copyright theft. So what makes today's announcement interesting is not the action per se, but what it says about the music industry's broader response to piracy. "Today's enforcement campaign by IFPI shows that where Internet pirates are persistently breaking the law, there is now a global anti-piracy operation which will stop them," IFPI Chairman Jay Berman said. Trouble is, the operation may be global, but anti-piracy law simply isn't. No wonder, then, that Berman also called for a global copyright protection law. The point is, what this request tacitly signals is the music industry's acceptance that it's attempt to end piracy by making it impossible to illegally copy music has effectively come to nothing, and that the old-style aggressive legal approach is the only weapon the industry has. The industry's attempt to take a more subtle approach has centred on the Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI). This was to have finalised its specification for copyright-protection and copy-control mechanisms in time to allow hardware vendors to ship digital music products and music companies to begin selling tracks on line this Christmas. Instead, the huge collection of technology companies, consumer electronics manufacturers and recording labels have had a real job coming up with something they can all agree on, something that meets to the hardware guys' need for an open standard and the labels' desire to put control of playback and duplication in their hands and no one else's. In the meantime, the MP3 format has continued to grow in popularity, to the point where it's largely unstoppable. And when some Far Eastern manufacturers are already saying they aren't going to wait for the SDMI, but will begin shipping MP3 players en masse this year, you wonder if SDMI has any kind of future. The IFPI's announcement today suggests that it doesn't, that demand for MP3s is simply too far advanced to rein in, and that the best the music business can do is fight the pirates not with advanced technology but through the decidedly low-tech courts. ®

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