New group to standardize digital music data

Apple, Microsoft and Sony BMG team with industry leaders to better track digital-music sales and royalties.

In an effort to better track digital music sales, several big-name record companies, digital music services and music rights agencies have founded a consortium called Digital Data Exchange.

The purpose of DDEX (pronounced "dee-dex") is to establish standards for the meta-data in digital music files, mainly for sales and rights-tracking purposes.

Founding members of the consortium include artists' rights group ASCAP, Sony BMG Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group, Universal Music Group and EMI Music, as well as several other music rights societies and agencies from the U.S., U.K. and Europe. Apple Computer, Microsoft and RealNetworks, which all provide digital music services, are also charter members.

"What we hope to accomplish is a foundation or baseline so that information about music and songs are going to be transmitted more efficiently," Chris Amenita, senior vice president of ASCAP, told CNET "Sort of like what the credit card industry did a number of years ago when they standardized their numerics."

As it stands now, content providers, publishing houses and digital music services have no standard way to deliver or receive information on the sales of music downloads. The record labels report to publishing houses when they release music files to music services in their own proprietary way. Each music service in turn reports the sales of specific digital music files to the publishing houses and content providers in their own format.

DDEX seeks to establish a standard format and tracking system for the meta-data attached to digital music files. Once the standard is established, identification of rights owners, sales and royalty information will be relayed in the same manner for all legally distributed music.

"Optimistically, it would be great if we could have something by the end of the year," Amenita said. "But with so many parties involved you have to be realistic."

In addition to streamlining rights reporting and sales, a long-term goal for DDEX is to eventually standardize the meta-data consumers use to digitally sort and organize their music.

That would mean that information such as artist name, track labels and other related content would appear in a standard format across devices and music programs.

Apple recently renewed its contracts with EMI, Sony BMG, Universal and Warner to maintain its 99-cents-per-song pricing on iTunes. Last year at a press conference Apple CEO Steve Jobs publicly referred to record labels as "greedy."

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