MP3 is ten years old today

The file extension, not the format


Happy Birthday, MP3 - today, you are ten years old.

Yes, on 14 July 1995 Germany's Fraunhofer Institute chose to use the .mp3 extension for files holding audio data encoded using the MPEG standard's Audio Layer 3 specification. The MPEG Audio Layer 3 codec was standardised in 1992.

Fraunhofer researcher Juergen Zeller broke the news ten years ago in the following email, provided by the Institute today:

Date: Fri, 14 July 1995 12:29:49 +0200
Reference: Endings for Layer3: mp3
Hello,_according to the overwhelming opinion of all asking: the ending for ISO MPEG audio Layer 3 is mp3.
i.e. we should for coming www sides, Shareware,_Demos, etc. on it respect that no more bit endings rausgehen.
It has a reason, believes me : -)
Juergen Zeller

Since then those three characters have become synonymous with free music, and the format remains the most popular and most widely known kind of digital music. Fraunhofer researchers may have gone on to develop the upgraded MP3 Plus format, and to attempt to add DRM support to the format, but the original, vanilla MP3 format is still the most commonly encountered form of the technology.

Apple last night said it had shipped more than 6.5m MP3-compatible iPods during the three months to 30 June 2005, all of which will have generated a small royalty payment to the Fraunhofer Institute. So too do MP3 encoding programs like iTunes. The German research operation has done very nicely, thank you, out of its creation - probably more than it ever anticipated.

Despite the arrival of more advanced codecs, most with some level of DRM support built in, there's no sign that MP3 is going to go away any time soon. It may not be a common format for legally acquired music downloads - though it's by no means ignored in that sector - but it remains probably the most popular format for ripping CDs music player owners have already purchased and continue to purchase.

Certainly, MP3 has survived all attacks so far, including the notorious, failed Strategic Digital Music Initiative (SDMI), formed to devise a DRM-enabled standard the music industry hoped to impose upon player makers and end-users.

The Register's first MP3 story goes back to 14 September 1998 when we covered Diamond Multimedia's decision to bundle tracks from MP3.com with its first portable music player, the Rio PMP300 - a device that got it into hot water with the music industry the following month.

MP3.com was sued for alleged copyright infringement the following year, and was ultimately acquired by major label Universal. MP3.com Founder and CEO Michael Robertson when on to form Lindows/Linspire, from which stepped back last month. ®

Related stories

Music publishers allege MP3.com copyright infringement
Secure Digital Music Initiative launched to kill MP3
Diamond dogged by music law suit
Diamond bundles Internet music with RIO


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