Guidelines Unveiled For Digital Music Players

Companies in coalition setting rules to restrict such format aspects as number of song copies allowed on computer.

In the near future, music fans may be able to store only a limited number of copies of a

given song on their computers.

Under guidelines released Tuesday (July 13) for digital music devices such as the Rio

MP3 player, that restriction and others were set forth in a blueprint created over the past

four months by more than 100 music and technology companies operating as a coalition

called the Secure Digital Music Initiative.

The limit on the number of copies a computer may hold is designed to prevent a single

listener from becoming a bottomless well of music, according to Jack Lacy, who chaired

the SDMI as the group developed the standard.

"It's really there to suggest to people who are trying to use content in a way that says, 'I'm

going to rip [create] one copy and give everybody that wants to plug into my PC a copy,'

that this is not the way to be doing this," Lacy said Tuesday during a telephone press


The specification was created behind closed doors by the SDMI in hopes that secure

devices will encourage major record labels to release music for sale by download.

Although the default number of copies allowed per computer is four, the owner of the

music — such as a record label or individual artist — can set a different

number of copies to be allowed.

Essentially, the copies one makes are treated as actual physical items, rather than digital

files. If a music fan transfers, say, three copies of Limp Bizkit's "Nookie" (

HREF="">RealAudio excerpt) off the computer and onto his or her Rio-type players, the system

allows more to be created from the original CD. But that total cannot exceed the number

allowed by the content owner.

SDMI was formed in December in response to the overwhelming grassroots support for

the MP3 format, which includes no security measures to prevent unauthorized copying.

Thousands of songs in MP3 format currently are circulating on the Internet without the

permission of their copyright owners.

Last month, the coalition announced that future devices compliant with its rules will still

accept current MP3s and MP3s created from any CDs currently in existence. A 35-page

document released Tuesday details precise rules for moving music between computers

and portable players.

Several electronics firms currently are developing digital music players, many of which

are smaller than a Walkman and contain no moving parts. RCA is expected to debut its

Lyra player in September, while Creative Technology's Nomad player will hit some

stores Sunday.

SDMI's stated goal is to have devices incorporating its standards on store shelves for the

holiday season, but some manufactures say that goal may be overly optimistic.

Creative's vice president Hock Leow said most retailers require companies to make

commitments for Christmas-season products by August for September shipment.

"Maybe we'll have online sales [of SDMI-compliant devices] by Dec. 23 for Christmas,"

he said.