The record companies' answer to music piracy

Remember the ‘80s? Days when vinyl records were still common, and the cassette tape was the most convenient delivery method for the music you wanted to hear? Your first walkman, and how it opened up a whole new world of music enjoyment - you could listen to it on the bus or train, wandering around the shops, or taking the dog for a walk - your music was always with you, for as long as the batteries held out.

Of course, there were also blank cassettes, and the wonderful device that was the double cassette deck. Pop your original in one side, the blank in the other, hit the high speed button, and you'd have a copy of your favourite music in no time at all. With a little extra effort, you could also play around with making compilation tapes, so all your favourite songs were together. Even if you didn't have a double cassette deck, there was always the time spent in front of the radio, just waiting for a song you wanted to come onto the air. Hit record, and hope that the DJ didn't talk over too much of the song, or cut too much off the end. The downside of course, was that your copy didn't sound as good as the original - it was likely to have a little more noise in the background, it just didn't sound quite as crisp. But you made do.

Then, at the beginning of the '90s, a brand new technology was unleashed upon the public. CD-R drives entered the marketplace. While they were very expensive initially - both for the drive itself, and the blank CDs - it was the first time that regular consumers had the tools to create perfect copies of their music. Completely digital, the copy you created sounded exactly the same as the original. Over a number of years, the drives and media got cheaper, to a point where they are now virtually always a standard component on new computer systems. At the same time as their price was falling, the speeds they were capable of burning at was increasing - to the stage where in a matter of minutes, a CD can be copied.

Of course, with the technology to create a perfect copy, the general public had in their home computers a tool to facilitate music piracy such as they had never seen before. Following years of the double cassette deck, and making copies of tapes for their friends, it was logical that many people would use their CD burners for the same purpose. However, the CD burner was simply the first half of a nightmare situation for record companies.

The internet was booming. In a staggeringly short period of time, the World Wide Web's reach had expanded to include the entire globe, while the number of pages online exploded. As computer technology became a standard part of the average household, more and more people were using them for entertainment purposes. Rather than being a glorified word processor and games machine, the PC became central to many people's entertainment needs. Then, Napster came along.

While Napster was by no means the first method to share music through the internet - Newsgroups had been around for a long time before that, as well as file sharing through clients such as IRC - it was the application that captured the general public's attention. All of a sudden, they were able to log in, do a search for a song they were after, and begin a download. Instant gratification for people who wanted to hear a song now. When you're talking about burning CDs, and giving a copy to a friend, there are physical limitations involved. You need a copy of the CD. You need a blank CD. You need to actually meet at some stage to hand over the burnt copy. Downloading music through the use of Peer to Peer file transfer had none of these limitations. You could sit on your chair at home, and about the only limitation you had on downloading was the speed of your connection to the internet.

Of course, Napster is dead as we know it. Several other file sharing applications have filled the void - KaZaA probably the best known of Napster's successors. This is the point we find at ourselves now, and the record companies have been forced to respond to the issue of music piracy - obviously, going after the operators of file sharing sites has not proven to be as effective a move as they may have hoped. In the last couple of years, they have responded - and their answer is Copy Control Technology.

What is Copy Control Technology?

Copy Control Technology is a method of disallowing the digital reproduction of a CD. It is contained on the CD you buy at the record store, introduced at the time the CD is pressed. The CD will perform as per normal when played on a regular CD player, however kicks into operation when the CD is placed into a CD Drive in a computer. Included on the CD are pops, crackling, and jumps. A regular CD Drive is not affected by these imperfections, however they are detected when the contents of the CD are copied into a digital format - either through burning a copy of the disc to CD-R, or converting the music to MP3 or another similar format.

The most common Copy Control Technology method is through the use of Cactus Data Shield (CDS). Originally developed by Israeli company Midbar, this company has been acquired by Macrovision, who now develop CDS. More information is available at the Cactus Data Shield node, however briefly, there are currently three implementations of CDS - CDS-100, CDS-200, and CDS-300. They differ slightly in the level of security they offer, and how they interact with computers. Basically:

  • CDS-100 - works normally with standard CD Drives, but will not work at all in a PC. Often used to protect pre-release versions of albums.
  • CDS-200 - works normally with standard CD Drives, and will work in PCs - however, you must use the bundled player provided on the CD - will not work with common music players installed on a PC.
  • CDS-300 - due for release in the first quarter of 2003, CDS-300 provides the greatest level of flexibility for the PC user. Again, they work normally in standard PC players. These disks will work in a PC, provided you are using Windows Media Player. Through Media Player, you will be allowed to copy the music to Media Player's music library, however these digital copies will only work on the PC that has made the copy - they will not work if downloaded from the internet, or emailed to another person. There is no mention made of exactly how this will work.

CDS is not the only implementation of Copy Control Technology in the marketplace, however given recent trends, it could be. TTR Technologies, who developed SafeAudio, have also been acquired by Macrovision. Sonopress are another company developing these technologies, developing Laserlock and ProtectCD.

If you are a user of a Mac, or operating system other than Windows, you may by now have noticed the complete lack of mention of your OS's. This is because at this stage, they are not supported. Support for the Mac is " plan", however, "no firm release dates are available at this time". No mention is made whatsoever of other operating systems.

Copy Control Technology in the marketplace

Copy Control Technology has had a somewhat rocky introduction into the marketplace. Testing of this technology was carried out by BMG Germany in 2000, however cancelled when reports of CDs not working in players began coming in. BMG Finland released an album by band Westlife which incorporated this technology in 2001, but recalled the CDs released using the technology, once consumers began to complain that there was no warning on the labelling to say that the album would not work in computers. In 2001, a Californian woman took MusicCity Records, Fahrenheit Entertainment and SunnComm - the company who developed the technology embedded on a Charley Pride album the woman had purchased - to Court. She sued the companies for misleading consumers, by not providing adequate warnings on the CDs labelling. Early the next year, the record company agreed to provide warnings saying that the album could not be played on a computer, nor could MP3 files be created from it.

Apart from these examples, the technology has also met problems with compatibility with some audio equipment. This includes DVD players, and car CD players. Car CD players seem to be the area of greatest concern, as it would appear that many use similar technology to a PCs CD-ROM drive. The CD believes it has been inserted into a computer, and refuses to play.

Of course, another area of concern is the question of digital music players. In recent years, portable MP3 players have made a large impact on the marketplace, with the promise of hours of music being able to be carried around with you, in a small format player. These devices rely on the owner being able to rip their music to MP3, and transfer the songs to their portable device. Anyone who owns a Copy Control Technology CD is going to find that they are unable to create a digital copy of the songs from that album, therefore being unable to transfer these songs to their portable device.

How do I know if I have purchased a Copy Control Technology CD?

Currently, these CDs are becoming more common in record stores - particularly in Europe and Australia. BMG Music are moving towards 100% of the albums they distribute incorporating this technology. EMI Australia are another company that is using this technology. Exactly what you will see on the CD to indicate that it includes this technology will vary depending on where you are - in Australia, there is a small logo on the CD cover, as well as information regarding the compatibility with computer systems printed on the back. BMG use the same logo on the front of the CD, and compatibility information in another logo on the back. Of course, the labelling on a CD in your area will be dependant on the consumer legislation in your country, which will dictate what information the distributor legally must give the consumer. However, the biggest indication that the CD you have is Copy Controlled may not be in what labelling is included, but rather what is omitted.

It is likely that a CD with Copy Control Technology will not have the Compact Disc Logo. In fact, Macrovision recommends that this logo is not printed on Copy Controlled CDs. The reason for this, is that Philips, who together with Sony developed the Compact Disc format, have refused to implement the technology, and argue that any disc which includes this technology does not actually fit the criteria to be labelled a Compact Disc, due to the disc's non-compliance with the Red Book Standard. So it may be that you will actually need to actively look for this logo on CDs, as an indication of whether Copy Control Technology has been implemented on the disc.

Copyright Implications and Consumer Legislation

'Fair Use' provisions in copyright legislation in your country may also be affected by the inclusion of this technology. Naturally, fair use provisions vary depending on the legislation in your country - in Australia, there is no provision for consumers to make copies of music CDs, regardless of whether the copy is for personal use or not. Of some concern is the statement in Macrovision's Copy Control Technology FAQ regarding this issue:

The protection of intellectual property is justified. But most of the copyright laws also allow fair use. If your system prevents users from making MP3-files and copying them to their mobile device, doesn't your system undermine the fair use principle?

No, quite the contrary. In this age of digital media, fair use is being redefined by the courts and the legislatures. Unrestricted digital copying translates into a disaster scenario for the content owners and artists. CDS and SafeAuthenticate actually support enhanced CD features that provide consumers with more, not less. CDS supports a "second session" encrypted compressed music file that allows record labels to offer 'pre-ripped' music files available on the CD if they wish. National legislation is not consistent around the world. Macrovision is not a music label or record publisher and, therefore, cannot determine where and how technology is used.

This statement is concerning, for a number of reasons. It seems to indicate that fair use legislation is being refined, so whether or not their technology currently strips consumers of their fair use rights is not a concern. It also seems to hint that the technology allows for music companies to include pre-ripped content on a CD if they choose to. It is worrying that decisions on whether consumers are able to exercise their fair use rights are placed in the hands of the record companies, rather than the consumer themselves.

Another area to keep an eye on is in regards to the information included on CDs relating to compatibility with computer systems. I suppose this depends on your understanding of a given CD being 'compatible' with an operating system. While CDs may claim to be compatible with Windows operating systems - while they include the CDS-200 Copy Protection - that compatibility extends only to the CD allowing playback through the embedded player. Many consumers may believe that if a CD claims compatibility with their OS, they will be able to use that CD in a normal manner. Of course, this is not true.

Does it work?

If the technology makes no difference to the number of illegally copied albums in the community, if albums are still able to be downloaded from the internet, then this technology is facing serious problems. As to whether it is currently working - that is debatable. While this writeup is not about how to defeat this technology, I will discuss some examples of instructions I have seen on the internet specifically regarding getting around Copy Control Technology.

Several existing applications, both CD-Ripping software, and CD burning software, are reported to have the ability to get around the technology, and produce unaffected copies of the music. Some of these instructions have assumed a reasonable level of competence in the person following them, some have been very simple methods though. On top of that, Copy Control Technology currently has one major Achilles Heel - it does not affect the analog output. As many CD players have a line out, and many soundcards have a line in connection, it is a simple matter of playing the music into the computer and saving it. This will be a more involved, and time consuming, process than many people would be willing to undertake, however depending on the quality of your soundcard you will end up with a copy that is almost perfect - if not perfect.

While this technology will undoubtably reduce the instance of casual copying of CDs, it is unlikely to affect anyone who is serious about music piracy.

Looking Forward

It would appear that this technology is going to become more prominent in the marketplace. While there have been instances of distributors recalling albums due to consumer backlash, the momentum that inclusion of this technology has been gaining is undeniable. More and more albums released by major labels are going to include this technology, in some implementation. Consumers can only hope that future releases including Copy Control Technology are more thoroughly tested, and provide a wider range of compatibility, than current releases. From my own point of view, I can see a number of possible scenarios following more widespread use of the technology:

  • The technology is withdrawn, following massive consumer disquiet, and reduced record sales for the distributors. The technology is met with much bad press, as well as complaints from consumers, and the bands (and their management) themselves. This outcome is unlikely - record companies have moved down a road that has required large investments in technology and research. Add to that the general reluctance of your average Joe to complain, and record companies can rightly proclaim that they are experiencing a minute fraction of consumers expressing dissatisfaction, therefore the technology is not causing problems.
  • Record Companies face obstacles through amendments to consumer's rights under Copyright Law. Also unlikely - in recent years, Legislators have displayed a tendency to tighten copyright law, rather than giving consumers increased rights.
  • The technology is improved to a level that does not hinder consumers legally listening to music, through a variety of devices. I'm hoping... The CDS-300 implementation is a step in the right direction, albeit as long as the consumer doesn't mind being tied to Windows Media Player software. The compromise in CDS-300 does remove a large annoyance factor regarding these discs, being the inability to keep a digital copy on your own PC, allowing you to easily access your music without needing the actual disc. This does not however get around the issue of transferring music files to portable, or in car, digital music devices. And these devices are becoming much more common - not only as portable and in car devices, but as components in home Hi-Fi systems.
  • Bands will break away from labels who use this technology, for labels who don't. If a band believes that they are suffering negatively due to their albums including this technology, they are not going to be happy. Of course, there are contractual implications involved here, but if a label suddenly finds that they are losing artists, this technology may quietly go away. Again, not all that likely.
  • I believe that what happens next very much depends on the reaction from regular consumers. People can become rather annoyed when conveniences they have for years taken for granted are taken away from them. It will also be interesting to see whether this technology has an impact on Indy record labels, and labels that choose not to implement this technology. They could well see their sales rise.


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