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SDMI Suspends Deliberations, Rethinks Role

AMSTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS — The Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI) has suspended deliberations after reaching an impasse over selecting a Phase II screening technology that would be used on future packaged media and in authorized downloads to control digital copying.

The group will meet again in September to debate its future role.

“There is currently no consensus for adoption of any combination of the proposed technologies,” SDMI said in a statement released after its mid-May plenary session here. The technologies were intended to mark authorized downloadable files and legacy packaged media, including prerecorded CDs, with copying instructions. The instructions could be written to prevent SDMI-compliant player software or devices from copying marked downloads and CD tracks or to allow one or more copies.

In September, the group will decide whether to make another attempt at choosing a Phase II technology and whether to approve copyright-protection specs for additional consumer devices, said SDMI spokesman Paul Jessop.

The initiative’s 2 1/2-year effort produced voluntary copy-protection measures for designing SDMI-compliant flash-memory music portables, wireless phones, AM/FM/CD boomboxes, tuner-equipped flash-memory portables and portable voice recorders. Such measures include locking a song to a particular device or memory card. The effort also produced a Phase I watermark that could be applied to downloadable music files and to future packaged media, including CDs, to signify that the user needs to upgrade Phase I music-management software to Phase II in order to download or rip a protected song.

“It’s a good time to take a breath and start looking at things with a fresh outlook,” said Jessop.

Members have been asked “to come to the next meeting [in September] with proposals or think pieces on how we can move forward,” he said.

Jessop stressed that “no one is talking about dissolving” the organization. The existing SDMI spec is in use and “needs care and maintenance,” he said. SDMI “will continue, but we must decide if we will move forward with new copy-protection technologies and new device specifications.”

The introspection was triggered by the Phase II deadlock, Jessop said. “It became clear that no consensus could be built around any particular combination of technologies. None of the combinations seemed to fit all the needs of all the people.” The initiative, he pointed out, demands “substantial consensus,” which he described as “pretty close to unanimity.”

The initiative also faces a challenge in writing specs for additional consumer devices. “In the convergence world, it’s not as easy to write a definitive spec,” he admitted. While the group prepares for its September meeting, however, “technical work [on device specs] will continue to go on an individual basis or by e-mail,” he noted.

One SDMI member contended that support for continued SDMI deliberations has eroded because multiple digital rights management technologies have been developed by technology companies and have been adopted by different music companies for their authorized download services.