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Microsoft tells music biz to 'back lock-down CD standard'

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MusicAllyMicrosoft is attempting to force a last-minute pact with record labels over the future of copy-protected CDs, according to a letter seen by MusicAlly. The allegedly leaked document is purportedly from Alain Levy and David Munns of EMI via Tom Silverman of Tommy Boy Records, who was asked "to reach out to the independent sector to achieve quick consensus on this issue [and] report back to Microsoft."

Any such deal would see Microsoft support "an industry-wide copy control platform" built in to its next-generation Longhorn operating system, with the computer giant instructing labels that the compatible secure CDs must contain additional multimedia content, such as bonus tracks, "as a quid pro quo for adding effective [DRM] into the consumer experience".

The letter, dated 2 September 2004, says that Microsoft's offer came "literally in the last few days" but requires that labels across the entire industry agree upon a specification for the functionality of the protected discs by 20 September. Though Longhorn has been in the planning for years, the implementation of CD audio copy protection will apparently be finalised "in the next few months".

It is not clear from the letter whether Microsoft's proposal is to enforce the "Secure Audio Path" concept (which would protect content all the way to a computer's speakers, making it impossible to make digital copies by recording from the soundcard) or to build in the "Active Software Protection" currently used by the likes of Macrovision.

For their part, Levy and Munns have allegedly provided a "strawman" proposed framework, which covers familiar ground such as the ability for CD buyers "to make a specified number of protected copies of the disc". But there are also some more ambitious requests, such as "when copying the files to the hard drive the consumer can use any protected music file format of their choice". We imagine Apple won't be willing to play ball on this front.

Many independent labels are rumoured to be terrified by the proposal, our sources suggest, which could grant Microsoft the mandate on CD copy protection and, if it is accepted by the industry, potentially increase the costs of CD production.

Is this the biggest hope yet for preventing piracy - or a deal with the Devil? ®

Copyright (c) 2004, MusicAlly

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