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SDMI: Portables May Play Open Formats

The Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI) said the voluntary spec it is writing to protect digital-music copyrights on the Internet will not prohibit compliant portable devices from playing unprotected compressed formats such as MP3.

The initiative also said it is on target to meet a self-imposed June 30 deadline for writing the spec, clearing the way for potential fourth-quarter sales of compliant portable playback devices.

Seeking to quash speculation about its deliberations, SDMI outlined in general terms the approach it says achieved “consensus” among the participating music, consumer electronics and technology companies.

“In particular,” the initiative said in a prepared statement, “we want to make it clear that reports that SDMI-compliant devices will reject MP3 and other open formats are completely false.” As a result, the statement said, “Manufacturers will not have to choose between developing an SDMI-compliant device versus developing a device that allows for the use of MP3.”

SDMI envisions two phases in rolling out compliant computer application software and music content. Copyright-protection kicks in during Phase II.

When Phase II-compliant application software is used to download Phase II-compliant files from authorized web sites, a set of instructions will be downloaded along with the file.

The rules could restrict playback to the user’s PC and to the user’s portable device. The rules will prevent the user from retransmitting the downloaded file over the web.

Phase II software will also reject unauthorized Phase II-compliant content, as will Phase II-compliant portables, but the software will not reject downloads of files encoded in such legacy formats as MP3.

Phase II software will also enable users to copy tracks of a CD and encode it in an SDMI-compliant compression format, but “only for personal use on their own computers or portable devices,” the initiative said.

A spokeswoman for the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) wasn’t sure whether Phase II-compliant software would enable users to encode CD tracks into noncompliant formats such as MP3.

Phase I-compliant application software will incorporate a triggering device that will prompt users to upgrade to Phase II technology when it detects Phase II-compliant music files.

Phase I software would be allowed to do anything that can be done with today’s application software: encoding CD tracks into legacy formats such as MP3 as well as downloading music files in legacy formats.

Pre-phase-I portable devices probably wouldn’t be able to play Phase II files without an upgrade, the RIAA spokeswoman added.