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Net music players closer to security

The Secure Digital Music Initiative's committee on portable devices is a step closer to its goal of making the players more secure, the group says.

A recording industry-led group seeking to make music downloads more secure online is a step closer to its goal today, according to the initiative's leaders.

The Recording Industry Association of America, the trade group that represents the major U.S. record labels, in December launched the Secure Digital Music Initiative, an effort to create specifications for secure music downloading that could be embedded in any download technology.

The effort was launched as music downloading began to take off in popularity, much faster than the mainstream record industry had anticipated. The MP3 audio compression format (MPEG 1, Audio Layer 3) had become the de facto standard for music downloads among early adopters because it is easy to use and offers relatively high sound quality. But it is feared by many in the mainstream record business because it allows for the easy distribution of unauthorized copies of copyright-protected songs.

One of the biggest concerns of the members of the SDMI is portable devices that play back MP3 songs downloaded from the Net, such as Diamond Multimedia's Rio. The SDMI set up a separate committee to come up with the specs for those devices sooner than the overall specs because the players are expected to sell well over the holiday season. The overall SDMI specifications are expected by March 2000.

The seventh meeting of the portable device working group, held in Tokyo from June 3 until June 5, brought the group closer to its goal of having specifications for the devices by June 30, the group said. It reached consensus on the "reference architecture" for the first generation of compliant devices.

The group agreed a way to evolve from an earlier generation of the devices, which will have few changes compared with current players, to the next generation. What the group is calling "second generation" devices--both new and first-generation devices with a software upgrade--will have more sophisticated and widespread protections, the group has said. (See related story)

The group also agreed on testing procedures and decided to create an SDMI marketing group, made up of marketing executives from the consumer electronics, recording, and information technology industries, the SDMI said. The marketing group will be charged with launching programs to build consumer understanding and support of SDMI-compliant products, the group said.

RIAA representatives declined to comment.