Net music shifts play into MP3 Summit

This year's MP3 Summit begins this week, amid a number of landscape shifts in the Net music space.

SAN DIEGO--This year's MP3 Summit begins this week, amid a number of landscape shifts in the Net music space.

For one, event host MP3.com last month filed for an initial public offering, looking to raise up to $115 million. Since then Cox Interactive Media, a subsidiary of Cox Enterprises, invested $45 million in MP3.com for a 10 percent stake.

In addition, America Online See news analysis: Which Net music technology will win? earlier this month bought Net music technology firm Nullsoft, maker of the popular Winamp MP3 player. Though other Net firms have begun to embrace MP3 (MPEG 1, Audio Layer 3), such as portal Lycos and Net music technology veterans RealNetworks and Liquid Audio, Nullsoft's buyout by the ultimate mass market Internet company to many signaled the true start of the format's coming of age.

MP3 also scored points recently behind the scenes of the Secure Digital Music Initiative, a project being spearheaded by music industry trade group the Recording Industry Association of America to devise specifications for secure online music downloads. The committee handling specifications for portable devices last month said its specs will allow MP3 files to be played--even illegal ones that were encoded before the new technology is devised.

But for all the headway MP3 has made of late, the technology faces ever-greater competition from a number of big players--including the likes of Sony, Microsoft, and IBM--that are trying to get their music download technology accepted as the standard, effectively snuffing out MP3, which many consider the current de facto standard.

And there is significant gold at the end of the rainbow. Forrester Research predicted in a recent report that "Digital music downloading will add $1.1 billion to the U.S. music industry by 2003."

Following a keynote address by Michael Robertson, chief executive of MP3.com, scheduled speakers at the MP3 Summit include Electronic Frontier Foundation cofounder--and former Grateful Dead lyricist--John Perry Barlow. The conference runs through Wednesday.

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