New Partnership Hopes to Make the Web Secure for Recording Artists

MP3 audio files have quickly become the dominant format for downloading music over the Internet, and have just as quickly raised the ire of music labels and artists looking to protect their musical assets. For example, a petition signed by nearly 400 European recording artists (including Mstislav Rostropovich and Barbara Hendricks) was handed to the European Parliament last Tuesday by French composer Jean-Michel Jarre to protest lax copyright protections exacerbated by digital technology. The petition states, in part, "We want to use new digital technologies like the Internet to create and to deliver our music, but we will only feel confident doing so if we know that the laws are there to stop our works falling victim to pirates."

Last week, Nullsoft, creators of the popular Winamp MP3 music player, and Audio Explosion, creators of the Mjuice secure music-delivery system, announced a technology partnership that will allow songs to be purchased "securely" using the MP3 format, now considered the Internet standard for downloading music. Audio Explosion and Nullsoft say they are addressing the piracy concerns of recording artists while developing solutions for music fans. Additionally, Audio Explosion intends to be part of the Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI) standards-setting effort put in motion by the RIAA (see previous story), and will support the SDMI standard when it is established.

"Together with Nullsoft, we are addressing the piracy concerns of artists by offering a secure music-delivery system," said Arnold Brown, president and CEO of Audio Explosion. "Marrying our technologies paves the way for artists and record labels to capitalize on the power of the Internet." The word from Winamp creator, 20-year-old Justin Frankel, is just as positive: "The guys at Audio Explosion have the right focus in making the Mjuice system people-friendly. Artists and Winamp users alike will benefit wonderfully from this combination of technologies."

According to Audio Explosion, their "digital songs" can be played back on the computer through the Winamp player, the Mjuice player, or on the new portable digital players. The company says that their approach employs a proprietary file format designed for compatibility with any compression scheme, including the ubiquitous MP3 standard. More important for the music labels, Audio Explosion incorporates a proprietary payment solution that streamlines the user's purchasing process.

An estimated 10 million copies of Winamp are in use worldwide, and more than 1 million copies of Winamp are downloaded each month from the Winamp website. The new version of Winamp, which supports security and the Mjuice payment system, is scheduled for release in early spring 1999. "This is an important step forward in the development of the MP3 industry," said Michael Robertson, MP3 industry analyst. "It's important for artists to have choices like Audio Explosion and not be locked into one particular business model or technology."