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MS announces Windows Media 9 DRM tool, music alliances

A step closer to the industry's format of choice...

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Microsoft has moved itself a little closer to its goal of becoming the entertainment industry's vendor of choice for Digital Rights Management. Today it announced the release of the Windows Media 9 Data Session Toolkit, together with key customers for the technology.

These include CD manufacturer MPO, which supplies several major music companies, Universal Music Group and EMI.

The point of the Data Session Toolkit is that (as its name suggests) you use it to create a second, data, session on CDs and DVDs. This is a protected Windows Media Audio session which can be used to control playback rights, and which can also be used to provide second session-only material, e.g. (as Microsoft sweetly suggests) "support for 5.1-channel surround sound through a PC running the Windows(r) XP operating system."

MPO general manager Philippe Thorel says the company intends to use the Toolkit alongside "our own Private Audio (tm) copy management system, to combine content protection with automatic control of consumer requests for private copying. We can now offer our record label customers the ability to deliver high-quality audio for PC playback as well as the opportunity to collect new revenue from consumers who wish to make additional secure copies of their music."

The Register has not as yet managed to nail down a spec for "Private Audio (tm)", so we're unable to confirm that this really is the despicable money-making wheeze it sounds like. But feel free to worry.

Microsoft's news Toolkit, however, is a smart move in another sense. By majoring on the digital side Microsoft doesn't have to get itself directly engaged in the 'home taping' argument that is resulting in the music industry appearing increasingly loathsome to right-thinking consumers. By presenting its formats as a secure approach to distributing content, however, and by getting it adopted by the music industry, it's laying the groundwork for its ownership of the standards for secure online distribution.

If the entertainment companies are already offering MS format data sessions on audio CDs, then its logical for them to offer that data - and only that format of data - for use in online sales. That's precisely what's happening with Music Choice Europe, which Microsoft also announced today would be using Windows Media 9 to provide a packaged broadband music subscription service to ISPs.

The first commercial releases "using an early version of the Windows Media Data Session Toolkit" (does this mean 'beta'? -Ed) will include the US version of Sinead O'Connor's "Sean-Nós Nua" on Vanguard Records, Len Doolin's "Once in a Lifetime" on Sunbird Records and a soon-to-be-released DVD-ROM from the U.S. band, Fischerspooner on Capitol Records. We await reports on the behaviour of these offerings with interest. ®

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