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RealNetworks makes streamed music pirate-proof

Copyright technology will help companies to capitalise on the Napster effect - but at the possible expense of consumer privacy

Copyright technology that will allow Internet retailers to track the sale and distribution of music and movies over the Web is being launched today by RealNetworks, in an effort to stop the illegal distribution of media online.

The product is aimed at companies who wish to cash in on Napster's popularity, without contravening any copyright laws.

RealNetworks claims that the system is able to securely transmit movies and music tracks to a person's computer, keeping track of how many times or for how long it is watched, ensuring that it isn't copied or shared illegally. The company expects the technology to be transferable to television and all types of digital media in the future.

"The potential for these initiatives are enormous," said RealNetworks president and chief operating officer Larry Jacobson in a statement.

Sony Pictures Digital Entertainment, the arm of Sony that distributes movies over the Web, will be one of the first customers to trial the RealSystem media conference suite. RealNetworks is also keen to attract subscription media services to this technology, including companies such as MusicNet, a partnership with AOL Time Warner, Bertelsmann and EMI Group who seek to distribute music over the Internet for a fee.

Intellectual property lawyer Robin Bynoe at city law firm Charles Russell, said there would be a need for copyright technology to be combined with a tariff system, so that consumers know exactly what they are paying for.

"If this is simply a device for stopping pirates, it has to be combined with some sort of licensing agreement," he said. Bynoe suggested that major copyright owners could develop a joint Web site for registration, where consumers could leave their credit card details and agree to the terms and conditions for distribution.

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