|Chip maker Cirrus Logic is teaming up with software developer InterTrust Technologies Corp. to block illegal distribution of music over the Internet so that major music companies are more likely to distribute their audio catalogs over the Web.
Although downloading music over the Internet and playing it back on computers or portable digital music players has become increasingly popular, major record labels have been slow to embrace distribution over the Web because of the difficulty in preventing unauthorized -- and unpaid -- copying of songs.
Cirrus will tout its Maverick Lock processor today as the solution to that problem -- a chip that includes enough built-in security to make it prohibitively difficult to make unauthorized copies of music.
The Maverick Lock works with InterTrust's Rights/PD security software. In addition, some of its security features are built directly onto the chip, such as a chip identification number and a diagnostic feature that can detect tampering -- such as someone trying to decode the decryption software built into the chip.
The chip also comes with support for InterTrust's digital rights management technology, which can ensure that music -- and other types of content -- are only accessible on authorized systems or under certain conditions.
The Maverick Lock is expected to show up in digital music players this fall, Cirrus executives said. Companies such as Creative Solutions Inc. and Diamond Multimedia, which already have devices that can store and play back music downloaded from the Internet, have announced that they would support the recording industry's demands for better security.
So far the music industry has been struggling to develop a way of protecting its rights while dealing with the fact that it is fairly easy for computer users to put pirated copies of music online that can then be downloaded using widely available methods such as MP3 or Microsoft Corp.'s Windows Audio.
"The fact is there's 10 billion CDs in the world right now that don't have any kind of protection at all," noted Richard Doherty, founder of the market research firm Envisioneering Inc. "That means the entire music library is already accessible over the Internet."
What the recording industry has to deal with now -- and what it has been attempting to do in various ways -- is to develop a method of protecting the next generation of songs, he added.
According to Cirrus and InterTrust executives, that's where the Maverick Lock comes in.
That hardware and software combination goes well beyond the music industry's own Secure Digital Music Initiative specification, said Matthew Perry, Cirrus' vice president of marketing for embedded processors.
"Music companies have been reluctant to make their products available over the Internet, because of a belief that software-only security can be broken," Perry noted. "With the Magic Lock that concern goes away."
While SDMI provides an outline of how digital music should be protected -- limiting the number of copies that can be made, or requiring that playback devices only work with authorized copies -- it doesn't spell out how that should be accomplished.
Although Cirrus is not the only company working on adding security directly into its chips, the company is a large enough player that it could convince record companies to start putting music online, analysts suggested -- especially as the chip is designed to still support the existing MP3 and Microsoft's Windows Audio formats, which are widely used to download music off the Internet now.
Companies that are already using Cirrus' Maverick technology include Creative Strategies and Diamond Multimedia, Perry said -- although Creative Strategies cited company policy in refusing to confirm that it was a Cirrus customer.