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Dead in the watermark, SDMI turns to chips, players?

Many flee sdmi.org in terror, but there's a pattern to the new entries...

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A recent Federal filing by the Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI) reveals a massive cull/defection of members, and a small clutch of additions who may in some ways be related. The filing can be seen here, or is mirrored at Cyptome target="new"here.

There are nine joiners, and 27 leavers. The volume of leavers might be telling us something about how well SDMI is doing in its quest for the perfect secure digital music system. The companies involved (or to be accurate, now not involved) cover a pretty broad spectrum, and maybe they just lost hope of SDMI ever getting to yes.

SDMI did recently achieve a resounding 'don't know'; at its Amsterdam plenary in the middle of last month the organisation thoughtfully concluded:

"For several months, the SDMI plenary has been evaluating proposals for technologies to be used in the protection of digital music. These evaluations have included assessment of performance, efficiency, audio quality, and survivability to attack, and were based on a consideration of consumer and industry requirements. Based on all of the factors considered by the SDMI plenary, it was determined that there is currently no consensus for adoption of any combination of the proposed technologies." (our emphasis)

By the standards of some previous SDMI communications* this is commendably frank, and does convey a sort of 'dead in the watermark' impression. But they propose to have another crack in September, when they hope to reassess technological advances."

All however is not lost: "This week's decision did not affect the prior adoption of SDMI's portable device specification and Phase I watermark, which are in widespread use today." This, we think, may be where the new entries come in.

First in line is IBM, which might sound odd, because IBM is already a member. But this is IBM, Endicott, NY. Endicott - aside from being the birthplace of IBM - is an IBM Microelectronics site, so we're getting chippy, right? Next we have Swiss company MediaMatec, specialist in digital rights management. This outfit licensed IBM EMMS (Electronic Media Management System) for incorporation in its digital music distribution system in January.

Taiwan's Winbond is next - chips again, but mightn't we perhaps start to speculate about players? Well, yes indeed, as we've also got Coding Technologies, a developer of codecs using its "Spectral Band Replication" technology, joining. On the crypto side we have NTRU Cryptosystems, which has backing from Sony. Then we've got SSFDC Forum of Tokyo, which is a developer of flash memory storage cards, and Imagination Technologies of the UK, which "has deployed and planned technologies for games consoles, PC's, arcade entertainment machines, digital set-top boxes, in car information/entertainment systems, and mobile devices." The other two new members are Japan's J-Phone Communications and Korea's MPMan.com, but that's enough companies already.

Do we need to draw a picture? Not all of these companies joining at the same time will necessarily be joining because of one single project, but they do seem to have an astonishing amount in common, and it'd surely be unwise to write SDMI off quite yet. ®

* By strange coincidence the blustersome source of a number of these previous communications, Leonardo Chiariglione, departed SDMI earlier this year. At the end of the March meeting in Tokyo, "SDMI participants presented Chiariglione with a kabuto, traditional Samurai armor, and acknowledged his passionate dedication to SDMI." Bye bye, Banzai?

Related stories:
SDMI cracks revealed
How the hack SDMI challenge was run
SDMI embarks on Phase II of universal digital music spec

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