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Philips moves to put ‘poison’ label on protected audio CDs

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Netherlands giant Philips Electronics has lobbed a grenade into the audio copy protection arena by insisting that that CDs including anti-copying technology should bear what is effectively a plague warning. They should in Philips' view clearly inform users that they are copy-protected, and they shouldn't use the "Compact Disc" logo because they are not, in Philips' considered view, proper compact discs at all.

The Philips move comes as the major record companies start to introduce copy-protection as quietly as they can. Unfortunate incidents such as Bertelsmann's Natalie Imbruglia lash-up have had the humorously opposite effect, widely publicising copy-protected CDs as poison packages to be avoided at all costs, and they've also clearly had an effect on Philips' thinking. As custodian of the standard, the company has decided it will oppose anything that will degrade it, and detract from the consumer's experience of it.

But we mustn't at this juncture run away with the notion that :Philips is going to fight a long-term heroic battle from the standpoint of the company that supports our MP3s. So far, it is opposing the copy protection technology because it is "troublesome and cumbersome," not because it thinks an audio free-for-all should be maintained (well, it wouldn't think that, would it?)

That probably means that Philips will act to impede the introduction of the flakier copy-protection mechanisms, but that as and when technology that doesn't break things is available, it may be open to cutting a deal with the record companies. Even that, however, is a serious set-back for the music industry's plans, because practically every test CD they're putting out now will have to be relabelled in some way.

The labelling itself will be an interesting issue. It's not clear that Philips could require protected CDs to be prominently labelled as such, and although it can force the removal of the logo, you'll note that this is generally on the CD itself, inside the packaging, so you're probably not going to get a prominent skull and crossbones to prompt you to pass on to the next rack in the store. Philips might however be able to argue that companies are "passing off" by selling something that consumers think is a CD, but isn't.

Meanwhile, the second barrel of the Philips shotgun is CD burning. In a Reuters interview Gerry Wirtz, general manager of Philips' copyright office, said that the company would be building CD burners that can read and burn copy protected CDs. He argues that the protection system is not a protection system as such, but simply a mechanism for stopping the playback of music. This interesting claim allows him to contend that the protection systems are not covered by the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, and lays the ground for the mother of all sue-fests with the number of large and rich companies who are most certainly not going to agree with him. Tin hats all round. ®

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