January 26, 2001 12:50 PM PST

SDMI trades ambitions for speedier release

The Secure Digital Music Initiative has scaled back its ambitions in hopes of having devices with built-in anti-piracy protections on the market by Christmas.

The group of computer, consumer electronics and entertainment companies broke Thursday from its first meeting this year after agreeing to drop some of its technology plans. It said it would try to settle on a final anti-piracy standard by June.

Most members recognized that delays have slowed the momentum of the group and that some of the most ambitious plans were already being undermined by technology, participants said.

"The consensus was to come to resolution. We know we have to do that," said Gregg Moskowitz, vice president of business development at Blue Spike, a company that produces one of the technologies under consideration for use in the group's standard. "But it is a very ambitious and optimistic schedule to meet by June."

One of the key decisions is to eliminate a primary, planned method for detecting when a song had been copied and sent over a service such as file-swapping site Napster.

So-called compression detection technology would have checked to see if a song had been squished into a smaller file format such as MP3 to be transferred online. This was seen as one of the important tests--though not the only one--to determine if a song was a legal copy.

The group has been examining technologies for this purpose for months, but growing internal and external criticism had pointed out that in a high-bandwidth world, this test meant little. With high-speed connections, pirates could send CD songs in their original format over the Net, evading this check.

Instead, SDMI members will use other technologies to create methods of checking whether a song version is legal. This won't mean going back to the drawing board entirely--the group's first standard, which remains largely unused, contains a way to mark a song so a device will allow it to be copied once, many times or never.

But the decision will force a reevaluation of how this process works and perhaps a new look at the first "Phase 1" standard, which has not been warmly received by device manufacturers.

The SDMI meeting also saw the group's executive director, Leonardo Chiariglione, announce he would step down from his post later this spring to handle increased duties at his regular job. He said at the close of the meeting that the effort is on track and that the group has moved ahead considerably with its review of the tests of the proposed technology.

"We continue to evaluate the proposed approaches for a content protection standard, while also bearing in mind the need for making decisions consistent with the rules of a rapidly moving marketplace," Chiariglione said in a statement.

 

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