MP3 Developers Launch Digital File Successor

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Updated: The team which created the MP3 file format has unveiled a new file format that enables the inclusion of updatable premium content – in a bid to combat music piracy

A new type of digital music file was unveiled on Friday that is being touted as the successor to the MP3 file format. Dubbed MusicDNA, the files contain embedded additional content including lyrics, videos, news updates and album artwork.

MusicDNA was developed by some of people who worked on the original MP3 format, and is being promoted by Norwegian firm Bach Technology as a means to combat illegal file-sharing. Using the new technology, music labels and bands will be able to send updates to the music files – with tour dates, interviews or updates to social networking pages – while illegally-downloaded files remain static.

“I think the music industry has got a great opportunity to open up completely new revenue streams,” said Bach chief executive Stefan Kohlmeyer. “They haven’t contemplated in the past all the aspects of rich media.”

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Bach says it is hoping to partner with retailers, music labels, rights holders and technology companies, and is willing to provide its technology to others who want to use it under their own brand. “We are getting very good feedback and the fact we are looking to include everyone in this, and not competing against them, helps,” said Kohlmeyer.

No major labels have signed up to use MusicDNA so far, but British record company Beggars Group and US label Tommy Boy are both on board. However, the files are likely to be more expensive than MP3 files – according to the BBC – and will have to compete with Apple’s iTunes LP, which already provides additional content such as bonus tracks, lyrics and video interviews.

The patent for the MP3 format is owned by the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits (Fraunhofer IIS), a division of the German applied science body. Karlheinz Brandenburg, one of the investors in Bach, is credited with inventing it.

“I remember 10 years ago, a lot of people were saying that we need to enrich the user experience, that legal access to music has to give the customers more than just music,” said Brandenburg, who is now director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Media Technology. “This is certainly one very nice way to do it.”

The MusicDNA file format is only one of a range of ideas being proposed by technology companies around the world, as they attempt to salvage the piracy-ravaged music industry. As well as Apple’s iTunes LP, the four major record labels are working on a similar format, known as CMX. Music tech company MXP4 has also created a file that provides multimedia content and interactive music applications.

Only last week it was reported that the first file-sharing trial in the UK had ended in acquittal. Alan Ellis, the founder of large-scale pirate music website Oink’s Pink Palace, was cleared of defrauding thousands of pounds from record labels and musicians on the grounds that Oink did not host any music itself, but simply indexed the files users had available on their computers. “All I do is really like Google, to really provide a connection between people,” he told police officers.

The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) is now preparing to launch civil proceedings against Ellis, claiming that the verdict was a “terrible disappointment” which shows that “the law is so out of touch with where life is these days”.

Meanwhile, the debate surrounding the UK government’s strategy to tackle illegal file-sharing is still ongoing. Business Secretary Lord Mandelson promised to clamp down on illegal file-sharers in the Digital Economy Bill, describing how the government would impose an escalating series of sanctions on persistent offenders. However, the proposal been attacked by the Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) and TalkTalk, as well as thousands of members of the public, who complain that the measures would penalise innocent people.

This story has been updated to clarify the invention and ownership of the MP3 format.