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"Copy Protected Audio CD's May Crash Computers" 
  04/15/2002

As the popularity of the MP3 format, which gained so much momentum with Napster,continues
it meteoric rise, the recording industry has been trying to curtail the trading of MP3's. They have filed lawsuits against almost every MP3 trading software package and are now tackling the problem with newly released CDs that ship with anti-computer and copy protection. The new CD's, which use varying protections, will supposedly play fine on standard players but there are difficulties that arise when attempting to play it on a computer.

According to Sony Music Entertainment (which owns the Epic/Sony label), the new Celine Dion album entitled "A New Day has Come", will be released in Europe with this type of copy protection. Because of the concerns expressed by Philips, the new albums will be called discs instead of compact discs. Philips and Sony jointly developed the CD format in 1978 and every disc since has had a compact disc label attached to them. However, these new discs will not be allowed to carry the label and they will also need to include label on them warning that they are not intended to be used on a PC or Mac.

The biggest problem with the copy protection is not the inability for a PC to read them. Instead, because of the varying manufacturing processes and companies involved in making standard audio CD players, there are issues with even standard players. Compounding the problem is the way that copy protection is being added to a CD. Sony is adding bad sectors on the CD to make them unreadable on a standard CD-ROM. The audio CD players can use error correction, which was intended to read CDs that had scratched or blemishes, to continue to read these discs. Unfortunately, by being forced to read these bad sectors constancy, the CD player's ability to perform error correction may become damaged. This would then make it impossible to read these CDs or any other audio CDs with scratches.

Another interesting aspect of this form of copy protection is that it cannot stop MP3 file sharing. Because the CDs can be played in an audio CD player, you can still copy a CD via digital connections, or if all else fails, you can simply plug an audio out from the CD player into the audio in of a PC where the songs can be recorded and converted to MP3. Additionally, there are already software programs that have been developed to counteract some of the copy protections that allow PC CD-ROM drives to continue to read these discs.

Adding copy protection to an audio CD is certainly not an exact science and there are many compatibility issues with standard audio players as a side-effect of the protection. There have been lawsuits in the past filed by users of these copy protected CDs. Most recently, MusicCity Records, Fahrenheit Entertainment and digital rights management company SunnComm settled a lawsuit over the album "Charley Pride: A Tribute to Jim Reeves". There are sure to be many more in this battle.

 - by Clayton Crooks

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