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EMI irks Apple over iPod anti-rip CD compatibility claim

Not playing fair with FairPlay?

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Macrovision's failure to deliver iPod compatibility appears to have got major music company EMI into a little hot water with Apple.

EMI is using Macrovision's anti-rip CD system, and this week told the world: "Apple is nearly finished with the technical work necessary to enable consumers to transfer music from content-protected discs to their iPods... music consumers will soon be able to legitimately port music from protected discs they own to the iPod."

Such moves apparently came as something of a surprise to Apple, which immediately told Cnet: "The information EMI provided regarding iTunes and iPod compatibility with Macrovision's technology is not true and we have no idea why EMI made this statement."

Macrovision promised iPod and iTunes compatibility for its CDS-300 copy-protection system more than a year ago, in August 2004. A suitable update would ship in Q4 2004, the company said, by incorporating support for Apple's DRM technology, FairPlay.

Today, CDS-300 operates with Windows Media Player on Windows systems, foisting on PC users DRM-protected Windows Media copies of the tracks on a CD and preventing the CD Audio songs from being ripped. However, the WMA songs won't play on an iPod. Macrovision could also incorporate AAC-format tracks on each disc to ensure iPod compatibility, but without access to FairPlay, it can't add the DRM code it needs to guarantee they will be safe from duplication.

Macrovision has, in the past, called on Apple to license FairPlay, to make such a solution possible. Apple has thus far refused to do so, and with the growing success of the iTunes Music Store, there's an argument for saying it shouldn't do so in future. For Apple the logic runs thus: if consumers are going to end up with iPod-compatible DRM-protected songs in any case, we'd rather they get them from an iTunes download than from a copy-protected CD.

Right now, CD sales outweigh digital downloads by a hefty margin, but while Apple is building iTunes business, it presumably feels it makes more commercial sense to do what it can to get iPod users to buy music from the online store rather than from CD retailers - even when they're buying discs for which Apple gets a licensing royalty for FairPlay.

Nowadays, Macrovision has effectively stopped touting iPod support, presumably having beaten its head against Apple's licensing brick wall once too often. Unless it has cut an as-yet-unannounced deal with Apple, it's hard to see how EMI can offer iPod compatibility. Macrovision may have re-engineered FairPlay, a trick RealNetworks tried last year, but if it has it will be chasing a moving target as Apple tweaks its DRM code to prevent such usage.

In any case, iPod compatibility for CDs isn't in EMI's interests - a least not from a financial perspective. Every album it sells through iTunes nets it more cash than a CD sale does, once manufacturing, logistics, royalties and other costs have been removed. And, crucially, every one runs immediately on any iPod it's loaded onto*. ®

*Well, almost. Apple has still to resolve the peculiar glitch in its iPod Shuttle firmware whereby some ITMS-downloaded songs are skipped when the Pause button is pressed...

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