After forming a consortium with various electronics manufacturers and technology developers--the Secure Digital Music Initiative, it's called--a plan has been made so that future versions of portable digital music recorders won't be able to play pirated music off the Internet.
Currently, portable devices such as Diamond Multimedia's hugely popular Rio player allow you to download music off the Net--compressed in the controversial MP3 format and uploaded by pretty much anybody--without paying for it.
In the case of independent bands, such digitial distribution is usually condoned. But when the tunes are illegally copied, it becomes piracy, and the five big music players, BMG Entertainment, EMI Recorded Music, Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group, have been plenty unhappy about it.
So, after a just-completed round of Los Angeles meetings with tech companies such as Diamond, the SDMI consortium agreed on the following: Music publishers will include encryption coding on their future CDs that will make playback impossible when the contents have been pirated; Electronics manufacturers will build their digital music portables based on software that will read this encryption and block pirated tunes.
Of course, it's going to take some time for the specification to work its copyright-protecting magic--the standards will take effect on CDs and players that haven't been made yet, much less sold to consumers. (The SDMI will meet next week to finalize and ratify their solution.)
The ideal scenario for the music biz is that, in the near future, digital music consumers will be limited to the following options: transferring (or "ripping") tunes from CDs they've purchased themselves onto their players; or downloading the music off the Net from its legitimate publisher and--gasp!--paying for it.
So far, the electronics guys are playing along--representatives from portable manufacturers Diamond and Creative Labs promise their future models will support the SDMI standard.
Still, don't look for the MP3 movement to fade out fast. "I believe hardware manufacturers have a vested interest [in supporting MP3]," Jupiter Communications analyst Mark Mooradian tells USA Today. "I don't see that changing in the near future."