MP3 tools could outlaw music pirates

E-commerce software company InterTrust has thrown its weight behind MP3 with the launch of technology that helps protect copyright of music downloaded from the Internet.

The MP3Plus Application Developer Kit, on show at the Demo 99 conference in California today, offers the makers of MP3 players the technology to secure the copyright of downloaded music. Software programmable into an MP3 player allows artists and users to control the use and distribution of downloaded tracks.

InterTrust managing director, Douglas Armati explained some of the applications. "If I made a thousand copies of a track to send to my friends, it would only be playable if they had the same software on their machine. Similarly if the artist decided he/she did not want the music to be altered in any way, that could be programmed in as well."

The technology was developed in response to the growing popularity of the MP3 format and the music industry's fears about piracy: "MP3 is extremely important but people are concerned about it being used without any rules," Armati said.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has long been opposed to the MP3 format and, together with a handful of industry players, founded the Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI) at the end of last year. With the popularity of MP3 growing daily, Armati believes the industry needs to sit up and take notice. "MP3 is the canary in the mine to the record industry. It is starting to embrace the format."

According to Jupiter Communications, total online music revenues - including music sales, music-related merchandising, advertising and concert ticketing are expected to grow to $1.6 billion (£0.976 billion) by the year 2002. Internet search directory Lycos estimated that over 500,000 MP3 files are available on the Internet, this month. By 2002, Jupiter forecasts that 50% of the US households will make online purchases and over 20% of US households will access the Internet via broadband connections.

So will MP3 become the industry standard when the SDMI has its first formal gathering at the end of this month? Armati thinks not. "Although MP3 is significant, it is just another format. Whatever the SDMI decide on, it should be multi-formatted and multi-playable," Armati said.

ZD Net News reported last week InterTrust is hoping to provide the SDMI with appropriately secure technology.