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SDMI Takes on Digital Swashbucklers

The group formed to combat digital music piracy Tuesday reached an initial agreement to protect downloadable music.

The Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI), made up of more than 100 music industry, electronic and multimedia players, adopted a specification for portable devices used to play and record digital music.

According to the plan, a two-phase system will be implemented to ease the transistion from the current technology. During Phase I, SDMI-compliant portable devices may play and record any music, whether protected or not. Phase II devices will not be able to record music recognized as pirated. New music releases will contain copy protection watermarking for the Phase II devices to recognize, the organization said.

One drawback, though, is that compact discs manufactured before the implementation of Phase II will not contain watermarks, and therefore will continue to be recordable even on SDMI compliant devices.

The digital music sector has grown into a popular alternative publication resource for musicians, and has developed a rebel reputation by independent artists who are able to market songs online without relying on record companies.

Major record companies have not embraced the technology because its potential for music piracy. As a result, the SDMI was formed by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the group responsible for the production and distribution of mainstream music.

Jack Lacy, chairman of SDMI's Portable Device Working Group, said the adoption of standards will help the digital download industry flourish for both independent and major label musicians alike.

"The SDMI specification will allow for the development of consumer friendly systems for delivering digital music to portable devices," he said.

Critics of the plan said the agreement was reached with the purpose of keeping musical control in the hands of the mainstream music industry.

"Anyone who believes SDMI amounts to anything less than further corporate exploitation of artists and consumers is suffering from a condition coined by psychologists as denial," said Larry Lee, owner of independent label Onion Creek Records.

"Consumers and artists alike will benefit from the current arrangement, provided neither believes the propaganda perpetuated by the corporate SDMI Masters."