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BMG digital music service to launch this summer

Based on IBM, Reciprocal technology, service to be offered through retailers

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'Big five' member Bertelsmann Music Group (BMG) is set to go live with its own digital music distribution service this summer. BMG's service will provide music from "top artists" and offer not only chart hits but back catalogue tracks, too, and will mark a significant step forward in a major label's digital music programme. The system will operate on IBM's Electronic Media Management System, which was the subject of field trials in the San Diego, California area last year, a programme codenamed Project Madison. It also uses Reciprocal's Digital Clearing Service (DCS), which will be integrated into EMMS by IBM and Reciprocal engineers between now and the launch data. Together, EMMS and DCS will allow BMG to control the whole process of storing, downloading and sale of digital music - and, ultimately, movies. The two systems also take in rights management, to ensure that artists royalties are correctly totted up, for instance, and support the sale of BMG's digital catalogue through third-parties. Indeed, it's noteworthy that the company's comments stress this side of the scheme. BMG is clearly having to play this one very carefully, lest it piss off its retailers, particularly those in the High Street, who will, after all, dominate music sales for the foreseeable future. BMG didn't say what music formats it will encode its tracks, but it did note that it wants "clearinghouse operators to support multiple technologies" to ensure "a high level of interoperability between key elements of the digital distribution chain". Not surprising, that, since the last thing any company wants is to find itself backing a minority format or technology that's isolated from all the others. And it also should make it easier to integrate its own set-up with third-party operations, such as those of its retail customers. The company also said it will "support the goals" of the Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI), which again comes as no great surprise. The SDMI is currently figuring out how its initial, Phase I specification for the emerging portable music player market can be expanded to take in the needs of the wider music business. ®

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