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Pirate-proof pop goes public

Music makers are stepping up attempts to stamp out piracy with the public release of CDs that cannot be played on computers. Natalie Imbruglia’s latest album is the first to go on general release with a copy-protection system built in.

Commentators say that soon many more CDs employ similar anti-pirate technologies. Before now, such systems have been added in a piecemeal fashion to a limited number of releases in different countries.

Critics say record companies should do more to tell consumers about the copy-protection systems used, and warn that many devices other than PCs will also have problems playing the discs.

Record breakers

Record company BMG is protecting Imbruglia’s second album, White Lilies Island, released on 5 November, with a system developed by Israeli company Midbar Tech.

The Cactus Data Shield developed by Midbar stops copying by corrupting the table of contents and the tracks on the CD.

While stand-alone CD players can correct for these errors, a player in a desktop computer cannot, and will refuse to play the tracks on the album.

Experiments with the Imbruglia CD by the UK’s Campaign for Digital Rights have shown that other devices have problems with the CD too.

Sony’s PlayStation 2, some DVD players and CD players more than five years old struggle to play the album. Nor can the audio on the disc be extracted to a Sony minidisc.

Disc recognition

Julian Midgley, a spokesman for the Campaign for Digital Rights, said the anti-piracy system only did a piecemeal job of protecting the music on the album.

“There are some PCs that will rip all the tracks and some that don’t even recognise the disc,” he said.

“All they are doing is annoying a lot of people who cannot do with it what they want to do, which is just listen to it,” he said.

Mr Midgley said the Campaign for Digital Rights was considering a complaint to the Office of Fair Trading to get copy-protected CDs properly labelled.

By stopping the tracks on CDs being ripped – or copied – and put online, record companies are hoping to stamp out casual piracy.

Release state

The inclusion of copy-protection technology on the Imbruglia album marks a change in tactics by the record companies.

Before now many record companies have only used the copy-protection systems on a piecemeal basis.

Sometimes the anti-piracy systems have been used to protect promotional releases intended only for radio play, and sometimes one CD has been released in different territories with different protection systems on board.

Only Universal Music has said it will put copy-protection on all the albums it releases from October 2001 onwards.

Groups have sprung up to protest about the inclusion of the copy-protection systems, and the fact that few affected CDs give any warning that the music they contain is protected.

Custom media player

Concerned consumers are compiling web-based lists of which CDs are protected in which countries.

Strangely, the Imbruglia CD does contain a program on the disc that does allow the music to be played on a PC – but the quality of the audio from the custom media player is said to be very poor.

So far, the anti-piracy efforts of the record companies are having a negligible effect on the amount of illegal copying.

Copies of Imbruglia’s album reportedly turned up on web-swapping sites even before White Lilies Island was officially released.

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