Music industry gets new ways to cut copying

"Protection": Companies seek a compromise for limits acceptable to CD customers to reduce Internet piracy.

January 23, 2003|By Dawn C. Chmielewski | Dawn C. Chmielewski,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

The ailing music industry is poised to make a new push to copy-proof its music CDs, in hopes of slowing the raging epidemic of Internet piracy.

Microsoft and Macrovision each announced new copy-protection initiatives at Midem, the record industry's biggest international conference, which ends today in Cannes, France. The new versions of locked-down discs are intended to strike a better balance between the labels' desire to keep their songs off unauthorized file-swapping services like Kazaa and consumers' expectations of flexibility and portability. They come after two consecutive years of falling CD sales.

Initial experiments with copy protection in Europe produced fierce backlash from consumers, who complained that discs with it didn't play in all CD or DVD players, Apple computers or even some PCs.

A consumer activist group based in the United Kingdom, the Campaign for Digital Rights, staged a monthlong protest against Sony Music Entertainment after Sony issued Michael Jackson's single, "You Rock My World," with copy protection that limited its play to stereos. Sony said the only such discs were a handful of advance copies given to European radio disc jockeys. But that didn't mute criticism.

Compatibility claimed

Macrovision, the Santa Clara, Calif., company that makes software that secures DVDs and video games, said it has worked out the kinks in its copy-protected CDs. It has released 60 million copy-protected discs in Europe and Japan - by such chart-topping acts as Avril Lavigne and the Foo Fighters - without compatibility problems, according to Adam Sexton, marketing vice president for music technology at Macrovision.

Sexton said the new version of Macrovision's Cactus Data Shield software allows consumers to play CDs in their PC, and to transfer copy-protected versions of the song-files to their hard drive to listen to the tracks without needing to insert the disc again in the CD-ROM drive.

Microsoft, meanwhile, made its entry into encrypted music CDs with the introduction Saturday of its Windows Media Data Session Toolkit, which it plans to give away to the recording labels.

Dave Fester, manager of the Windows Digital Media Division, said the CDs contain two tracks of music - one in standard CD format, known as "redbook audio"; and an encrypted data session, which plays when the disc is inserted into a computer.

The redbook audio portion of the disc is copy-protected with Sunn- Comm Technologies' MediaMax CD-3 software, which allows the disc to play in the home stereo, the CD player in the car and a portable Walkman, but is hidden from the PC.

To desktop, or a copy

The second session is a compressed Windows Media Audio file that's wrapped in rights-management software, which controls whether a song can be transferred to the computer desktop or copied.

Depending on the rules that the record labels set - music can be transferred to portable players or used as part of a custom CD compilation, as either a Windows Media file or a traditional "redbook audio" track.

In a demonstration of an Ike and Tina Turner: The Early Sessions compilation disc, Fester showed how the second session on discs can contain DVD-like bonus features, such as biographies, lyrics, a picture gallery and even music videos.

The record label seemed impressed. "EMI is really excited that Microsoft has provided a tool that makes it easier for music fans to move their music around and enjoy it anywhere," said Jay Samit, senior vice president of EMI Recorded Music.

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