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Epic Records Goes Low-Tech to Seal Its Newest Music

The Epic Records Group, a unit of Sony Music, is approaching the sticky problem of prerelease music’s being traded online with an even stickier solution.

Writers receiving review copies of two soon-to-be-released albums – Tori Amos’s “Scarlet’s Walk” and Pearl Jam’s “Riot Act” – are finding the CD’s already inside Sony Walkman players that have been glued shut. Headphones are also glued into the players, to prevent connecting the Walkman to a recording device.

By locking up the discs, Epic hopes to keep writers from converting the music to MP3’s that can then be traded over the Net. But even a “glueman” player is unlikely to deter a diehard critic.

“I’m a pretty big Pearl Jam fan,” said Bart Blasengame, a staff writer at Details magazine who was sent one of the contraptions with “Riot Act” inside. “I brought this discman home with me, and I found a way you could go in the back of the CD and, like, pop it open. So I got the actual disc out.”

Mr. Blasengame said he had no intention of making MP3’s. “At the same time, if I want to give it a proper review, I’m going to listen to it how I want to listen to it – and in my stereo is where it sounds best,” he said.

For several years, prerelease music has turned up online before it reaches stores, distributed without permission by journalists, radio employees, record company employees or other sources. This July, for example, a six-song sampler from Ms. Amos’s upcoming album was shipped to writers the old-fashioned way. The songs soon appeared on file-sharing services like WinMX.

The Recording Industry Association of America blames Internet music-sharing for declines in CD sales, though proponents of MP3 trading dispute the group’s arguments.

A Sony spokeswoman confirmed that the glued players were being used to combat piracy, but would not talk about their effectiveness or responses from writers.

This is not the first time prerelease music has received the glue treatment. Gil Kaufman, a freelance journalist in Cincinnati, said he owns a prerelease copy of Radiohead’s 1997 album “OK Computer” that is glued into an Aiwa player – an Aiwa analog cassette deck. That makes MP3 conversions a bit more difficult.

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