is out with a new software release that it says will enhance copyright protection for the music industry.
The Windows Media Data Session Toolkit will enable music companies to place songs in multiple layers within a copy-controlled compact disc, so that it can be player in a CD player or personal computer.
Music CD sales slumped 11 percent last year in the U.S. and record labels continued to be bedeviled by the dramatic growth of unauthorized downloading of music content off the Internet. Officials from the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry speaking in Cannes, France at the annual Midem music conference over the weekend said hundreds of millions of unauthorized music files are being shared around the world.
Microsoft says its new software is being adopted by MPO, the world's largest independent CD manufacturer, and that it has signed up music giants Vivendi's Universal Music Group and EMI Group PLC. But AOL Time Warnerand Sony Music, two of the world's largest music companies have yet to formally support the new Microsoft anti-piracy software release. RealNetworksis also involved in competitive media protection software.
Microsoft has made digital rights management (DRM) a priority and has invested $500 million in a bid to protect copyright, and provide an effective rights solution for the music industry.
Microsoft's latest bid at music copyright protection is designed to limit the copying of music bought in retailers. The same software can also be used to protect DVDs, the emerging standard for movie video distribution.
Microsoft's software is designed to be used with software, such as that from SunnComm Technologies Inc. SunComm's MediaMax CD-3 copy-protection solution prevents songs on music CDs, known as "red book" audio, from being copied onto a PC, but will allow the discs to work in a home stereo or car stereo unit.
The new Microsoft software will allow music companies to customize their CDs by in some cased adding a second batch of songs, and other digital images and video files to their CDs. These files are referred to as "second session" files that will allow PC users to have a legal copy on their computers. But these "second session" files can be programmed with a variety of different copying limitations, such as putting in blocks designed to prevent copying onto CDs or sharing the songs with Internet file-swapping services.
Microsoft has also given music companies copyright control tool that will allow users to email songs, but with degraded sound quality or expiration dates that will make the songs unplayable after a certain date.
The software product that Microsoft is offering to the music companies and other copyright holders is a new component of Windows Media 9 Series, known as the Windows Media Data Session Toolkit.
One aspect of the new Microsoft software release is that licenses to be issues without users having to go online to formally register. The onus will be on content owners to decide what level of playback use, or protection they would like to issue to their customers.
Last week Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the Business Software Alliance (BSA) and Computer Systems Policy Project (CSPP) reached an agreement on a core set of principles relating to the protection of intellectual property rights. Microsoft says its new toolkit is in keeping with those principles.
Also as part of its announcements as part of the Midem conference, Music Choice Europe says it has chosen Windows Media 9 Series as the software system for its broadband music subscription service, which it is now offering for European ISPs for deployment.