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Bertelsmann Music Group has had to back down on plans to force anti-rip technologies on British CD buyers.

BMG released its first copy-protected CD, Natalie Imbruglia's new album White Lilies Island, earlier this month. However, a posting on the Natalie Imbruglia Web site this weekend, revealed the company's plan to issue unhappy consumers with replacement discs that lack the anti-rip encoding.

White Lilies Island uses Israeli technology company Midbar's Cactus Data Shield to prevent the disc from being played in a PC CD-ROM drive. The encoding process systematically corrupts the music stored on the disc. A hi-fi CD player's error correction mechanism can compensate for the corrupt data and recreate the sound to a level that Midbar claims is undetectable by the listener. Put the CD into a PC, however, and the drive will pick up the corrupt and claim the disc is unreadable.

One consumer, annoyed that the disc would not play on his PC, took his complaint to the Virgin Megastore at which he'd bought the disc. Virgin contacted BMG and, according to the retail chain's reply to the buyer, re-posted here, the music company said that it will re-issue the CD without Cactus protection.

"BMG only informed us on 14 November 2001 that all European stock of Natalie's CD is protected by the Cactus Data Shield," Virgin wrote to the complainant.

"Unfortunately, this stock has not been stickered to notify our customers of this encoding, and needless to say we are very disappointed that this has happened. At present, all European stock has been manufactured by BMG, therefore all retailers are in exactly the same position.

"However, we will shortly be receiving non-encoded stock of this title."

According to the posting, music fans who have already bought the CD can have their Cactus disc replaced for a rippable one. The hotline for disc replacements is 0151 225 1159.

We called the number and can confirm that BMG is indeed replacing discs. The company will send CD owners a pre-paid envelope in which to return the Cactus-protected CD. Replacement discs should arrive "within days" of BMG receiving the original disc, we were told.

Virgin Megastores, meanwhile, added in its email: "As retailers we do support the fight against copyright theft, however this should never be at the expense of the customer, and on this occassion clearly you have been left disappointed."

Of course, whether BMG will release other CDs that have been protected by Cactus - or, for that matter, other copy-protection mechanisms, such as Macrovision's SafeAudio - remains to be seen. Given Virgin's stance, we reckon the company is most likely to try again but this time advise consumers through a sticker on the CD packaging.

We asked BMG to comment, but as we posted this story it had yet to do so. We'll let you know what the company has to say for itself. ®

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