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No more free lunch

Online-music innovation is focused on protecting copyrights and hawking subscriptions. Tracks hed: No more free lunch dek: Online-music innovation is focused on protecting copyrights and hawking subscriptions.

Late July saw the most significant confab for distributors of online music yet held, but as a showcase for new products and services, Jupiter’s Plug-In Forum in New York City had the feel of any other run-of-the-mill tech conference: According to dispatches from the conference, new toys were everywhere, but new technology that might actually create excitement among consumers seemed in short supply.

In fact, the overriding (and distressing) theme of the conference wasn’t how to better build a bridge between distributors of online music and the billions of fans who might be interested in it, but rather how to prevent online piracy and build up the idea of subscription-based music services. In other words, short-sighted business as usual.

Several companies had new products to showcase, and a case in point was provided by Liquid Audio. The online music software company’s new digital audio player, Liquid Player Six, enables users to stream, download, purchase and play digital music as well as rip and burn audio CDs from one application. Liquid Audio also previewed its new digital music subscription service technology, which provides record labels, consumer-device companies, and online retailers the ability to offer music fans a subscription-based payment system. The subscription technology gives retailers the option of choosing among content streaming, downloading, or a combination of both services, and features individual songs and full-album downloads, CD-quality audio, and copyright-compliant file-sharing.

Several other companies joined the security parade at the conference. Typical was CenterSpan Communications’ new C-Star, a peer-to-peer network that provides the secure distribution of digital media, including music and video. CenterSpan said C-Star offers digital-rights management and supports various business models, including purchase and rental subscription services and video on demand. The hallmark of the C-Star peer-to-peer network is a digital-file security and copyright protection scheme provided by Microsoft’s Windows Media DRM technology. Meanwhile, Intertrust Technologies announced a new digital-rights management system to deliver secure music and videos on a variety of devices including PCs, set-top boxes, video recorders, mobile devices, and consumer electronics such as game stations and portable devices; and Portal Software announced an online music subscription service for media and entertainment companies, content portals, and service providers. The technology, according to Portal Software, supports multiple payment types, tracks usage activity, and compiles and computes payments.

The preponderance of security and subscription technology makes it clearer than ever that the copyright and bottom-line concerns of record companies are being felt in research-and-development departments all over. Is it that the limit has been reached when it comes to refining and improving media players? Probably not. Even the newest players are glitchy and often come up short in terms of versatility and compatibility with different file formats.

This tells us that the focus is not on generating enthusiasm and goodwill among music lovers when it comes to the future of online music. Instead, the bulk of development efforts are going toward policing users. Online music is going to wither if the focus continues to move away from improving products and services and toward strengthening the padlocks on music sources.

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