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RIAA admits CD-R more a threat than P2P

Paving ground for mass anti-rip CD roll-out?

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The Recording Industry Ass. of America has acknowledged that P2P file-sharing is less of a threat to music sales than bootleg CDs.

The RIAA's chief executive, Mitch Bainwol, last week said music fans acquire almost twice as many songs from illegally duplicated CDs as from unauthorised downloads, Associated Press reports.

According to Bainwol, in turn citing figures from market watcher NPD, 29 per cent of the recorded music obtained by listeners last year came from content copied onto recordable media. Only 16 per cent came from illegal downloads.

Legal downloads accounted for four per cent of music acquisitions, while official CDs accounted for almost 50 per cent of the total.

The RIAA's favoured solution appears to be copy-protected CDs, which are gradually spreading throughout the music CD market. This approach "is an answer to the problem that clearly the marketplace is going to see more of," Bainwol told the news agency.

Over the last few months, we've seen a growing number of stories published by the mainstream media that highlight the growing number of copy-protected CDs in the market and, in particular, those that have become big sellers. If we didn't know better, we'd suggest this was all part of a scheme to attempt to ease consumers' concerns that the music industry is out to make it a darn sight harder to listen to music on a computer. But they wouldn't do that, would they? Ahem.

Now that copy-protection has gone beyond crude early attempts to foist poor Java music player software on consumers, and to limit their ability to make copies for personal usage - in those territories where such 'fair use' rights are enshrined in copyright law, at least - the music industry seems a lot keener to release anti-rip discs. Much-improved hardware compatibility has helped too.

The fly in the works is, of course, Apple. A recent Reuters story covering the sales success of copy-protected CDs contain quotes from a number of folk bemoaning the lack of support for the iPod. So far, copy-protection schemes are Windows only, since they dump PC-ripped music as Windows Media files. The iPod doesn't support Windows Media file formats or DRM.

Music industry figures were grumbling that Apple's apparent unwillingness to license its FairPlay DRM technology - or, more likely we suspect, do so at a price the music industry is willing to pay - prevents them from creating music files that can be transferred to and played on an iPod.

What the report failed to note was that the Mac version of iTunes has generally been fairly robust in its unwillingness to cater to copy-protection technologies. When we reviewed Macrovision's then state-of-the-art CDS-300 version 7 copy-protection scheme last year, while it happily imposed restrictions on Windows users, the sample tracks we were challenged to rip where easily converted from CD audio to MP3 on a PowerBook G4 running iTunes. Right now, the solution to copy-protection appears simple: buy a Mac.

In any case, Apple wants iPod owners to buy songs from the iTunes Music Store, not on CD, so there's little to be gained from licensing FairPlay for incorporation into CD copy-protection systems. That may change when Apple comes to renegotiate its iTunes sales licences from major and minor labels, on which Apple is undoubtedly banking on the growing success of iTunes as its prime bargaining tool that the current licensing regime be maintained. ®

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