In any event, SDMI's meeting and whatever strategy that results from it will be make-or-break for the organization, insiders agree.

SDMI: FIGHT OR FLIGHT?

Leader of Secure-Music Consortium Steps Down At Big Meeting

Leonardo Chiariglione, head of the Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI), announced today he would be stepping down.

In a statement, Chiariglione would only say that he will be devoting more time to his primary occupation, compression engineer at Italy's Centro Studi e Laboratori Telecomunicazioni.

"I have been honored to work with a broad and diverse group as we addressed the leading issues in the Internet economy. The work SDMI has done to explore issues, provoke debates, and develop content protection and management alternatives in the Internet music arena has already helped guide those working on books and video," said Chiariglione. "While my new position will limit the time I can dedicate to other efforts, I invite
SDMI participants to continue to address these issues and I will continue to follow the progress of SDMI closely—because that certainly won't take much time."

His successor hasn't been announced.

SDMI, an organization of copyright holders, manufacturers and others hoping to combat online piracy by developing ways to control the dissemination of encoded music, has suffered its share of slings and arrows since its inception in 1999. Chiariglione's departure will most likely deepen the perception that the organization's ends have been mortally frustrated.

This week in Los Angeles, the collective is holding its first meeting of ‘01—and hopes to justify its existence as the general perception of it in the Internet-music world has gone from skeptical to outright dismissive.

Even some members of the initiative, who previously embraced its goals, have mutinied. Micronas, which manufactures chips for portable music players, among other things, pulled out earlier this month.

Much of the group's focus has been on developing a protocol for "watermarking" digital music tracks. This involves surrounding the song itself with an identifying code that can be used to trace or control its distribution. Unfortunately, a high-profile contest challenging hackers to defeat the watermark raised further questions about SDMI's effectiveness.

Code-crackers from various corners claimed to have broken SDMI protocols, and two were even awarded the contest's $5,000 prize (see hitsdailydouble.com, 11/29). Today saw a pair of French experts claim to have cracked all of SDMI's vaunted security measures, posting their results on the Web.

These results break down the process and implications of three kinds of attacks, in ascending order of effectiveness: random, directed and surgical. This last requires knowing the protection scheme and defeating it.

In a surgical attack, claims the site, "There aren't any audibility problems any more (the quality is actually better than the marked version), and you know the attack always succeed. With such an attack, you could code a filter that would automatically remove the mark of any song you download to your computer, thus defeating the whole purpose of the scheme."

"The battle over music piracy is like the war on drugs," writes ZDNet's Jesse Berst in an article that ran on the site today. "You can't win it, but you can fight it forever, and spend millions on the battle."

Berst's view is the preeminent one in the online community, and is gaining acceptance in the terrestrial music world as well, despite the current focus on various security schemes.

In any event, SDMI's meeting and whatever strategy that results from it will be make-or-break for the organization, insiders agree.

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