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AT&T updates Net music delivery

The telco's music delivery technology arm, a2b Music, upgrades its platform to give the music industry more control over distribution and licensing.

AT&T's music delivery technology arm, a2b Music, has updated its platform in an effort to give the music industry more control over distribution and licensing.

The platform combines compression and encryption technologies developed by AT&T Labs to deliver CD-quality music securely over the Internet. It competes with other products such as those from Liquid Audio. With a2b Music's technology, a three-minute song can be compressed into 2.25 MB and can be downloaded via the Net in roughly ten minutes with a 28.8-kbps modem, according to a2b Music.

Howie Singer, chief technology officer of a2b Music, boasted that a2b Music's technology is better than that of its competitors because "per bit, our compression is more efficient, meaning the files are smaller, and the sound quality is higher."

Copyright infringement is a strong concern in the music industry on and off the Net--and the explosion in Net use has created a community of sorts among those who pirate music. Although the Net offers potentially enormous opportunities for easier and less expensive distribution of music, the industry has been somewhat wary of embracing the medium.

Delivery technology firms such as a2b Music and Liquid Audio--as well as their streaming technology cousins such as RealNetworks and Microsoft's NetShow--have stepped up efforts to address those concerns to foster widespread use of their technologies.

Liquid Audio, for example, formed an alliance with music licensing organization, the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP), last week, under which Liquid Audio will distribute ASCAP's licensing information to its clients.

a2b Music's latest enhancement lets record labels deliver songs independently of licensing software, which allows for flexibility in licensing and promotion strategies, the company said. For example, a label could offer various download options to fans, such as the full song to those who have paid for it or a 30-second sample to others. Also, the label can create different download versions for single or multiple use.

The key is that "separate licenses are created for each download scenario rather than mastering multiple files of the same song embedded with unique licenses," according to a2b Music.

Another feature was added to the platform on the interface side, the a2b Music Player, which is the software users download to listen to music delivered via a2b Music's technology. The interface shows the CD's cover art or the label's logo, and has a click-through feature to link to the label or artist's site. The company said the new feature is designed to offer further branding opportunities to the music industry.

The company currently is involved in a promotion with Atlantic Records and Tower Records; fans who buy the latest CD by artist Tori Amos through Tower Records and download the a2b Player can then download a song that is not available elsewhere.

Larry Miller, chief operating officer of a2b Music, noted that "AT&T has been involved in doing fundamental research in the area of creating the core technologies and patents that enable high-quality things to happen over networks for literally a hundred years." He added that AT&T Labs has been working specifically on digital delivery of music over the Net for more than five years, although a2b Music has only been around since November 1997.