Bigwigs talk music distribution

The future of digital music distribution was under debate at the kick-off meeting for the Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI) on Friday.

SDMI will focus on standardising the security of the various technologies vying to play an integral role in the music distribution of the future. Although Sony, IBM and other companies were keen to tout their technologies at Friday's meeting, no one format will be chosen.

Alexandra Walsh, spokeswoman for the RIAA said: "We are not about finding a winner. We want to find a means by which the various technologies people are bringing to the table can be co-ordinated into an open architecture to secure music online."

Paul Jessop, technology director of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) supports the RIAA's position arguing that this is no time to set up a monopoly. " It is not in anyone's interest to impose one system on producers... Monolithic systems stifle progress ... There will be no monopoly. If IBM's technology is good and freely licensable, people may take it up. The same applies to Sony," he said.

Friday's meeting was convened to decide how the SDMI will be structured. Plenary meetings will take place every six weeks, with working groups to decide specifics like watermarking and use of portable devices. It is hoped SDMI-approved technologies will be available by the end of the year, allowing companies like Liquid Audioand GoodNoise to offer downloadable music to customers in time for the holiday season.

The need to roll out secure technology comes as a music industry response to the increasing popularity of illegal MP3 sites. Jessop hopes the SDMI initiative will kill off illegal MP3 completely. "Our hope is SDMI and the technologies developed through it will replace illegal MP3 by providing a wide variety of choice," he said. Walsh denied the RIAA has ever been against MP3. "The recording industry is not anti-MP3. It is not about the technology, rather about how it is being used," she said.

The industry's endorsement of online music could change the music landscape for large retailers like Tower Records and Our Price, according to Jessop. "If we look back in five years, some brands we will recognise and some will have fallen by the wayside," he said. "It will be a very large marketplace and could become a battlefied for the larger retailers."

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