SDMI looking frail

SDMI members reckon the initiative is in trouble...

The future of the SDMI (Secure Digital Music Initiative) was thrown into doubt Monday with one industry insider claiming its members expect the initiative to fail.

The SDMI is a consortium of more than 110 companies from the music and computer industries and was created to set standards for the digital distribution of music. It has been plagued by reports of dissent and looks increasingly frail.

Iain Clark, former drummer with heavy metal band Uriah Heep and chief executive of Mode -- a developer of systems for secure digital music download -- says SDMI faces a difficult future at best. "A lot of people believe the SDMI will not reach its objectives. Within the SDMI there are content owners, computer manufacturers and consumer electronic companies, each with a different agenda. There will be an interesting debate for some time to come."

Clark believes the SDMI's decision to allow MP3-compliant portable devices was a "significant compromise" and illustrative of the struggle the initiative faces as it attempts to please both record labels and consumer electronic giants. "Consumer electronic companies do not want to alienate customers by excluding MP3 from devices and the majors are not going to release their catalogues until there is a secure format," said Clark.

Principle members of the SDMI say there was no alternative but to allow MP3-compliant portable devices. "It was an enormous, heart-rending decision", says Paul Jessop, technical director at the International Federation of Phonographic Industry (IFPI), "but the alternative was even worse. Currently it is not technically possible to distinguish between legitimate and pirated music."

Another SDMI member, EMI Records is sympathetic to Clark's views, but is more pragmatic in its outlook. "I've heard those criticisms," says an EMI spokesman. "But you have to remember that no precedent for such a cross-industry forum has been made before. You wouldn't expect it to have a clear path," he says.

Clear path or not it's a catch 22 situation for the SDMI according to Clark.

Mode is currently talking to record labels and online retailers about using its platform to sell music over the Internet. The system will allow downloads in any format and provides copyright protection.

Mode will also target shopping centres, restaurants, bars and hotels to provide the backbone for streamed music via the Net. Clark believes this is an emerging market for digital music and will significantly reduce costs for businesses.

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