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Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Digital Music Grows ; Incompatibilities Persist

(Via Rednova) The digital tracks solid in the US alone has doubled in one year. The market for legitimate music downloads is booming, but the stumbling block of incompatibility will not go away. DRM technology wraps around song files to block mass copying and peer-to-peer distribution of music downloads. It dictates when, where and how music files can be consumed legitimately. At the heart of the problem are dueling digital-rights-management (DRM) systems from rivals Apple Computer and Microsoft. Files using either company's DRM are incompatible with players that support the other DRM. Microsoft's Windows Media DRM is supported on more than 60 devices and used for digital files sold by dozens of retailers, including Napster, AOL, Yahoo, RealNetworks, Virgin, FYE and Wal-Mart. Apple's DRM is called Fair Play and works only in Apple-controlled products and services like the iPod and the iTunes Music Store. Key to the long-term proposition of digital music is the idea of building a system where music can be accessed anywhere and everywhere. But in the short term, the industry is just looking for DRM rules to replicate with music files what consumers are used to doing with their CDs: moving seamlessly from home stereo to car to computer to portable players.
Dimensional and eMusic are avoiding DRM issues by not supporting DRM at all. Instead, they sell licensed content in the open MP3 format. This tactic limits the amount of music they can offer, however, because the major labels will not license music to be sold as MP3 files. A consortium of carriers and handset manufacturers known as the Open Mobile Alliance is developing a third major DRM standard, OMA, for phones. Microsoft and Apple are also looking to facilitate the sale of music via cell phones, lining up support from handset manufacturers like Motorola (which is backing Apple) and Nokia (which is aligned with Microsoft).It is unclear whether the carriers want to sell music in either format. They may ultimately back OMA, thus exacerbating the DRM compatibility problem. Regardless of where compatibility problems originate, labels and retailers are looking to develop bridging solutions that can approximate interoperability. RealNetworks in July marked the one-year anniversary of its Harmony initiative, which allows tracks from the RealPlayer Music Store to work with Apple's iPod and a number of portable Some analysts see interoperability as a feature that could be promoted by large cable companies or telecommunications players offering broadband access. "Consumers derive value from interoperability, so a third party should offer interoperability as a service."

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