April 16, 1999

Sony and IBM Create Alliance on Internet Music


Striking an alliance in the struggle to establish standards for delivering music over the Internet, IBM and Sony announced late Thursday that they would make their competing standards mutually compatible.

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The announcement came as Internet and music-business leaders met in Los Angeles this week to discuss ways of protecting their industry from illegal distribution of music over the Internet by means of a free and increasingly popular technology known as MP3, which threatens to destroy profits from CDs and other commercial recordings.

The Recording Industry Association of America, which represents major record labels, has organized the "Secure Digital Music Initiative" to establish a standard for the legitimate selling and trading of licensed music on the Internet.

Several companies, including AT&T Corp., IBM, Liquid Audio, Microsoft Corp. and Sony, have developed technologies intended to deliver CD-quality music online while preventing illegal copying. Each is pushing for its technology to be adopted as the standard.

Sony announced Thursday that it would make two of its new technologies, MagicGate and OpenMG, compliant with IBM's proposed standard, known as the Electronic Music Management System, or EMMS. Like IBM's technology, MagicGate and OpenMG are intended to prevent digital music from being illegally copied, but they are not as broad as EMMS, which includes tools for preparing and distributing music as well as protecting it from piracy.

Even so, Sony will continue to developing its own secure music standard, known as Super MagicGate, which will offer similar tools.

Rick Clancy, a spokesman for Sony, said the company did not believe it was diminishing its own chances of creating a standard by cooperating with IBM. Rather, he said, making their two standards interoperable would "make it more attractive for the music industry to support."

IBM has announced plans for a field test of its technology in San Diego in June in which several thousand households will be able to buy commercial digital music over television cables.

Rick Selvage, IBM's general manager for global media, said the company had constructed its standard and the test in consultation with major record labels.

But some of the industry leaders gathered in Los Angeles said the new standard amounted to closing the barn door after the cows had left, since a growing number of consumers were already trading music freely -- or at least inexpensively -- on the Internet using MP3.

"You have these proprietary or collegial standards, but how will they play in the mass market?" asked Peter Harter, vice president for global public policy for GoodNoise Corp., a concern that sells licensed digital music files over the Internet in the MP3 format.

Matt Richtel at welcomes your comments and suggestions.

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