New Copyright Protection Schemes for Digital Music Announced

Several weeks back, the music industry's fear of MP3 audio technology came to a head with the release of Diamond Multimedia's Rio playback device. (See previous and related stories.) The Recording Industry Association of America then announced a new plan, called the Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI; see previous article), in an effort to bring the music and audio-technology industries together to solve the problem of digital music piracy.

As a response, last week Sony Corporation announced the development of new copyright-management technologies that it claims "could revolutionize the way in which digital music content is delivered, used, and enjoyed." The company says it will promote its approach to the music and technology industries, and propose it to the SDMI.

"As a company which has strong commitments to both electronics and entertainment, Sony enthusiastically supports the mission of the Secure Digital Music Initiative," said Ted Masaki, Deputy President of Sony Corporation of America. "We respect the rights of artists and other copyright holders, and look forward to providing a comprehensive copyrights management solution that will expand the entire audio market and offer our customers new ways to enjoy digital music content."

Two new content-protection technologies, tentatively called MagicGate and OpenMG, are intended to provide an immediate solution for "protecting" digital music on personal computers and audio player/recorders that use computer memory for storing audio signals. According to Sony, MagicGate employs a microchip embedded in both the player/recorders and media to ensure that protected content is transmitted only between compliant devices and media. All content is transmitted and stored in an encrypted format to prevent unauthorized copying, playback, and transmission of protected content.

OpenMG employs a hardware module and special software to encrypt digital music content stored on a hard disk drive or similar storage device. Authentication technology is used to ensure that protected content is transmitted only to compliant devices and media, and that all content is transmitted in an encrypted format. Sony says that this technology allows content to be enjoyed on PCs, but prevents unauthorized copying, playback, or transmission. Sony says that with the new systems, digital music content can be "moved" rather than copied, while preventing unauthorized copying, playback, and transmission. Sony will broadly license both approaches to the relevant industries, as well as implement them in Sony's Memory Stick and PC-related products.

As an extension of the above-mentioned near-term solution, Sony says it has also developed a secure electronic music-distribution solution, tentatively called Super MagicGate, that includes copyright management, electronic distribution, and content-protection technologies for distributing digital music content electronically over the Internet and other digital networks. As with MagicGate and OpenMG, Sony will propose Super MagicGate to the SDMI and actively promote it to the relevant industries.

Super MagicGate employs network servers that handle content distribution, secured payments, and other functions, as well as compliant products such as PCs, portable player/recorders, and IC recording media. One feature of the system allows content providers choice in setting the conditions under which digital music content can be used. For example, promotional tracks could be limited to a single playback, while other content could be played back freely a certain number of times or only during a limited playback period. Sony says that usage and billing settings can be changed even after content has been delivered: users could choose to purchase a music track after sampling it once for free, or could receive a limited-playback version of a song for upgrade to unlimited playback at a later date.