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RealNetworks Offers Music Software

May 3, 1999

NEW YORK (AP) _ Leading Internet audio software company RealNetworks placed itself squarely in the middle of a fight over music piracy with its creation of a product designed to make it easier to download and play music on a computer.

The release of a test version of the RealJukebox software Monday coincided with a separate announcement by Thomson Consumer Electronic Inc. that it will market a portable device under the RCA brand for playing music downloaded from a computer.

The moves are yet another blow to the recording industry, which is worried the booming trend of people distributing music through the Internet will severely weaken copyright laws.

RealJukebox will make it easier and quicker for computer users to download music from either their own CDs or the Internet onto their computer hard drives, said Mark Hardie, a senior analyst with Forrester Research, Inc. of Cambridge, Mass.

It will also help people to find and download the huge number of tunes in MP3 and other formats now available, he said.

The MP3 format allows near-CD quality recordings to be transmitted over the Internet, but also has given rise to widespread piracy as people trade unauthorized copies of tunes for free.

RealJukebox will move digital music distribution beyond the technically savvy and into the mainstream, said Siddiq Bello, publisher of The MP3 Newsletter, a trade publication on Internet distribution of music. Hardie estimated 10 million people will be using RealJukebox by July.

Meanwhile, Thomson plans this fall to begin selling a $200 product to play MP3-formatted music downloaded from the computer. It will compete with Diamond Multimedia Systems Inc.’s Rio, the only product now on the market for his purpose.

RealJukebox will contain an anti-piracy device that limits a consumer to making a single copy of a music file for their own use. However, consumers will be able to easily disable the device in order to send out copies of the music to friends via e-mail.

The industry is worried that free distribution of music through the Internet will cripple the market for selling it, either on CDs or online.

Phil Barrett, senior vice president at RealNetworks, said the company is ``very respectful of intellectual property.″ But he said RealNetworks is responding to an existing demand in the marketplace.

``Frankly, consumers don’t really care about it,″ he said. ``The reality is most consumers don’t want to be pirates and have no problem leaving the default in as it is.″

The Recording Industry Association of America, which has appointed a committee to come up with anti-piracy standards, declined to comment on RealNetworks’ announcement.

``People want this,″ Bello said. ``The recording industry must recognize that fact and make decisions knowing that instead of trying to modify that fact.″

Also Monday, RealNetworks announced the formation of RealGuide, which offers free music downloads to RealJukebox users. Among the music available is an exclusive song by the rock band The Offspring, and the first single from rap artist Public Enemy’s new album.

Much of the other selections offered are by obscure artists, owing to the recording industry’s cautiousness about the format. But it does include songs by Julian Lennon, Randy Newman, George Clinton & the P-Funk All Stars and Frank Black.

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