No more mister nice guy: EMI, Sony-BMG revisit CD copy protection

Lack of Fairplay

Both Sony-BMG and EMI have made statements this week that most of their CDs for their major markets will have copy protection placed on them.

Sony BMG is a customer for SunnComm while EMI is using the Macrovision CDS 300 technology.

But Sony-BMG also used the opportunity to seed anti-Apple sentiment among the US press, knocking the company for continuing to keep Fairplay a closed environment and appearing to favor Microsoft software with its copy protection approach.

The Sony-BMG SunnComm system uses a copy manager on a PC which creates a handover to the Windows Media DRM software that works with Windows media player, which then prevents further copying. This used to be easily bypassed, but now Sony-BMG has gone a step further and instead of trying to install the copy manager surreptitiously it tells the consumer it is doing it and if the consumer says no, it ejects the CD.

The Macrovision CDS 300 which EMI has chosen has been available for about a year from Macrovision and it enables new CD’s to be burned, which themselves cannot be copied. What Macrovision has done is take its old, rigid copy protection called CDS 100, which was unpopular because the CDs didn’t work with all players and never allowed any copying, and make those the output of the new CDs when copied. The copies also will not play on a PC, only the original will play on a PC. However, EMI assures us that now the copied versions are the same in playing terms in every way, as the original CD, but cannot be copied. this is due to improvements in the number of devices that Macrovision copies can now play on.

When running on a PC, Macrovision will also add a piece of software that will run as a copy manager in virtually the same way as the Sony-BMG SunnComm technology.

There is going to be howl of protest from the anti-DRM community and already there are write ups of how to get around the system and import tracks onto iPods via a CD copy, one track at a time. The two pieces of software that co-operate with Windows Media DRM don’t work at all with Apple’s Fairplay and so Apple owners may find they can’t play the CDs at all or if they can, they are not protected, in the same way raw MP3 files are not protected on iTunes.

Our guess is that iTunes customers will simply shift their entire music acquisition program from CDs to online and save a lot of fuss, slashing CD sales in the process.

Copyright © 2005, Faultline

Faultline is published by Rethink Research, a London-based publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter is an assessment of the impact of the week's events in the world of digital media. Faultline is where media meets technology. Subscription details here.

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