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SDMI boss bails out

Chiariglione lands safely in Telecom Italia research lab

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The head of the SDMI - the music and IT industries' joint attempt to create a secure digital music distribution platform - has quit.

Leonardo Chiariglione is off to run the multimedia division of Telecom Italia's research centre, Telecom Italia Lab. He will be leaving the Secure Digital Music Initiative in a few months, the organisation said.

You can see why he's off - he probably wants a quieter life. As one of the brains behind the original MPEG-1 standard, Chiariglione was hired not only for his expertise but his independence from the vested interests behind the SDMI. The organisation was formed to seek an alternative to the MP3 music format, at least as far as the latter's lack of copyright protection technology went.

MP3 is, of course, part of the MPEG-1 spec. Chiariglione helped define. Indeed, he remains head of the Motion Picture Experts Group after which the compression technology was named.

However, after an initial specification for portable digital music players, the SDMI has almost nothing to show for its efforts but broken deadlines. And it hasn't been free from controversy. Last year, it unveiled a series of watermark technologies it hoped would form the basis for its proposed copyright protection mechanism. It brashly offered $10,000 to anyone who could break them in the hope that no one could.

Unfortunately, when they did, the SDMI made rather a fool of itself by blundering around denying the success of the crack on the grounds that while it zapped the watermark, it also had an audible impact on the music so encoded. The Princeton University team behind the crack, led by Professor Edward Felten.

Since then Prof. Felten has gone back on a pledge to reveal how the team did it because of a potential infringement of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The DCMA makes illegal any attempt to crack a copyright protection mechanism, and Felten's lawyers have advised him to keep quiet about it. The only reason they would say that is if the guy has been threatened with the Act if he goes public. And who's most likely to make that threat? That's right, the SDMI.

All this has tarred the SDMI's name somewhat - quite apart from allegations that it was always the music industry's puppet - so it's no wonder that Chiariglione might have had enough.

The organisation is apparently meeting this week to discuss work on Phase II of its copyright protection framework roll-out. SDMI members will also discuss finding a replacement for the departing head. ®

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