Sony preps updated CD copy protection trial

Carrot as well as stick this time

Sony will test its latest CD copy protection mechanism in Germany next week that blocks ripping but allows tracks to be transferred to "authorised" portable music players.

That's the carrot it's dangling in front of punters who may be put off buying discs that feature copy protection. Sony is essentially providing buyers with the freedom to copy the disc for personal use, but preventing them distributing copies via the Internet, Reuters reports.

That's the theory, anyway. The technology uses the established method of offering two versions of the record on the same CD: one that can be played in regular players and another intended for computer use.

The second version is held in a second session. Each disc is mastered to prevent the PC from seeing the session containing the CD Audio tracks. Sony has used a similar approach in a number of releases over the past few years, but in the past has not included 'PC friendly' files alongside the CD Audio tracks.

The multi-session technique was also foiled a while back when it was discovered that blocking off the PC session band on the CD with a bit of Post-It note or a black market pen forced the computer to access the 'hidden' CD Audio session.

Back then, of course, Sony wasn't offering computer users alternative tracks. The company accepts that copy protection mechanisms will almost certainly be cracked, but it hopes the majority of computer users will buy protected discs if they can still use them on their machines.

Sony's latest system is not without restrictions, however. The tracks can only be copied to Sony portable music players, and played on a PC using Sony's own software - a problem for users of platforms not supported by Sony. The company promises to offer plug-ins for popular music apps early next year.

Users will accept those limits, it hopes, because of the extra content web links built into the PC session provide.

The first disc to use the new system will be New York R&B outfit Naturally Seven's album, What is it?, due to be released in Germany on Monday. Sony said the disc will ship with a 'this disc is copy protected'-style label. ®

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