Music, tech meet on secure Net spec

The RIAA gathers music and technology industry leaders in the first organizational meeting for the Secure Digital Music Initiative and appoints a director.

3 min read
The recording industry today began the process that it hopes will lead to a standard for secure delivery of music online.

As reported, today was the first organizational meeting of the Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI), an effort by the Recording Industry Association of America to gather music and technology executives to create a specification that could ostensibly be embedded in any online music delivery technology to ensure it is secure. The SDMI is the music industry's effort to ensure copyright protection in cyberspace.

"This initiative is about the technology community developing an open security system that promotes compatible products in a competitive marketplace," Hilary Rosen, president and chief executive of the RIAA, said at the press conference announcing the initiative in December. "It's not about the recording industry imposing a standard on technology companies. We'll simply provide guidance on the needs of our industry and its customers."

At the helm will be executive director Leonardo Chiariglione, who led the development of the MPEG standards, according to the RIAA. Chiariglione is head of the Television Technologies Research Division at CSELT, the corporate research center of Telecom Italia.

"In recent years, I have worked to help create digital audio technologies through an international, multiindustry standard-setting process," Chiariglione said in a statement. "SDMI is an exciting endeavor because it will build upon such technologies to create a new infrastructure for the secure delivery of music to consumers. This will benefit everyone, from the artists who create music to the consumers who enjoy it. I am therefore honored to be such an integral part of SDMI."

The RIAA and others are concerned about copyright especially in light of the popularity of MP3 (MPEG 1, Audio Layer 3), an audio compression format that allows users to download music tracks and save them onto a PC hard drive. Due to its popularity among Netizens, the format has become what some consider a de facto standard for music downloads. But the format is not secure, and has helped the spread of high-quality, unauthorized copies of copyright-protected songs on the Net.

Also of immediate concern are portable devices such as Diamond Multimedia's Rio, to which users can download MP3 files and play them back on the go. The Rio is the subject of a pending lawsuit between the RIAA and Diamond. Steven Marks, vice president and deputy general counsel of the RIAA, said today that given the momentum behind the portable devices, that issue is on a "fast track" within the SDMI.

The first meeting for the working group that will cover portable devices is scheduled for March 5, he said, adding that a separate security specification or "some other kind of functional solution" will be developed for the devices.

Marks said that during the meeting today, the parties discussed what other working groups are needed. The list will be finalized in the coming weeks and participants in the SDMI will be able to sogn up for them, he said.

"MP3 is an important format and our hope is that this initiative will help develop ways for artists who want to use MP3 to have access to it and to be able to secure their music to prosper," Rosen said when the SDMI was announced.

But critics say the SDMI is the RIAA's attempt to thwart the momentum behind MP3.

"You can't add encryption to MP3 and still have MP3," Steve Grady, spokesman for online record company GoodNoise, said following the SDMI announcement. GoodNoise sells authorized downloads of songs in the MP3 format.

Others have criticized the initiative for its parameters.

Mark Hardie, senior analyst at Forrester Research, wrote a letter to Cary Sherman, senior executive vice president and general counsel of the RIAA, after being briefed on plans for the initiative.

"At a minimum, I expect the initiative would require 18 to 24 months to show any tangible results," he wrote.

"Moreover, all of the record companies are already involved in digital distribution and Internet antipiracy initiatives," he continued. "The SDMI will run parallel to some companies' initiatives and counter to others, creating counterproductive friction in the near term. I do not believe a completed specification will be forthcoming in one year."