SDMI agrees on new spec for digital music players

The Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI) has met its June 30 deadline for agreeing on a technical specification for portable devices that store music in the digital format.

More than 100 recording companies, consumer electronics groups and computer technology vendors are members of the industry group which has been working towards resolving controversial copyright protection issues for music on the Net.

The technical specification sets out two phases under which new portable music players will be developed. Players built to the spec in Phase I will be able to accept music in all current formats, whether copyright-protected or not. Phase II will add new screening technology designed to block the downloading of pirated music -- music that has been copied and distributed illegally, without the permission of the creator or copyright holder.

When the screening technology is available, recording companies in the SDMI, including virtually all of the major labels, will deliver new music online using the Phase II version of the specification. To be able to download this music, users will have to upgrade their Phase I devices to Phase II devices, according to the SDMI.

This can be accomplished through a software upgrade, so that users will not have to buy new hardware devices, according to SDMI officials. The screening technology that is the core of Phase II will probably not be available for at least another year, to a year and a half, according to record company sources.

In any case, users of either Phase I or Phase II devices will always be able to download songs in older, non-copyright-protected formats, SDMI said. This was the compromise that was haggled over and finally reached in order to push through the specification, according to SDMI insiders.

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