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Universal Cuts ’99 Net Music Deal

Multiple web sites will begin commercial, copy-protected uploads of authorized Universal Music content late this year for playback on portable digital players from RioPort, Toshiba, and possibly, Panasonic.

Universal is the biggest of the world’s five biggest music companies, which include BMG, EMI, Sony Music, and Warner Music.

The portables, which store music in non-volatile flash memory, will support Inter-Trust’s MetaTrust copyright-protection technology, which will be implemented by the web sites and is Universal’s “preferred” digital rights management technology.

The sites are RioPort’s and the MTV family of web sites, including, and RioPort, a subsidiary of Diamond Multimedia, is licensing its MetaTrust-enabled web platform to the MTV sites.

When the MetaTrust-enabled sites begin authorized commercial uploads, “it’s our intent” that the sites’ MetaTrust technology will be compliant with the requirements of the Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI), said a RioPort spokeswoman.

Universal wasn’t available to discuss its plans, but RioPort said it expects Universal to make new music and catalog songs available on the sites. RioPort also said it is in discussions with other music companies to make content available for MetaTrust-secured uploads.

RioPort’s web site plans pilot tests of MetaTrust-secured content in the late summer or early fall and plans to make Universal music available commercially by Christmas, RioPort said. The MTV sites will also begin commercial uploads of Universal content sometime during the winter months before the end of the year.

The usage rules applied to the content will be up to Universal, but MetaTrust provides flexible options for accessing and listening to music, RioPort’s spokeswoman said. For example, it allows for free, short promotional samples of a song as well as paid-for online downloads, which could be locked onto a particular PC and to a particular portable device. The technology could also enable purchasers to e-mail a song, but the usage rules would apply to the e-mailed copy.

To support the web sites’ plans, RioPort’s plans August availability of a MetaTrust-compatible portable (see table, page 25, for details on this product and other new portables). Initial production won’t be SDMI-compliant, but future production will be.

A Toshiba spokesman in Japan said his company plans to sell portables in the U.S. and Japan by the end of the year. The product will support the MP3 and AAC (Liquid Audio) compression formats and the MetaTrust technology, he said. Additional details were unavailable.

Panasonic would only say that its portable will be available sometime in the winter and didn’t specify late-1999 or early-2000 sales. Nor would it confirm that the product would support MetaTrust, although a MetaTrust spokeswoman said she believed it would. Panasonic also wouldn’t say what compression formats the product will support. The Panasonic and Toshiba, models, however, will be SDMI-compliant.