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Belgian watchdog sues record biz over copy protection

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Belgian consumer watchdog Test-Achats (Test Aankoop), known for its crusade against Nokia's "unsafe batteries", starts the new year with a fresh assault on the music industry. It is taking the music giants EMI, Sony, BMG Music and Universal Music to court for installing anti-piracy systems on their audio CDs.

In a press release, Test-Achats says it has received lots of consumer complaints in recent months about CDs equipped with anti-piracy systems, in particular 'Laundry Service' by Shakira, '1 Giant Leap' by Faithless and Bjork's 'Greatest Hits'. Often, these CDs can't be read by PCs and car stereos, and prevent users from making legal private copies, according to Test-Achats.

Test-Achats is thought to be the first consumer watchdog to challenge the music industry in court over anti-piracy protection.

In 2001, a Californian woman filed a lawsuit against an independent record label for embedding technology in CDs that blocked people from listening to songs on a PC. The defendant settled the case by implementing a return policy. From then on, record companies began to include a warning that copy-protected CDs are not designed to work with DVD or CD ROM players.

In 2002 the US congressman Rick Boucher got in on the act, delivering trenchant criticism of moves by record labels to protect CDs against copying. He also argued that blocking consumers from copying their own CDs could violate US copyright law, but didn’t pursue the matter further.

Also that year, Philips, the custodian of the CD standard said said it was prepared to sue manufacturers if they failed to include clearly inform users that their products are copy-protected.

However, lately both Philips and Sony are pushing the Super Audio CD (SACD) format, which offers protection against both piracy and consumer copying. ®

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