Sun, Mar 03, 2002 - Page 11 News List

New coded music CDs hamper piracy

OUT OF TUNE The latest compact discs developed by the music industry are reducing options for consumers


In Santa Clara, California, Athena Espiritu-Santo listens to a new compact disc in her car but found that she cannot play it on her computer at home or at work.


The recording industry has begun selling music CDs designed to make it impossible for people to copy music to their computers, trade songs over the Internet, or transfer them to portable MP3 players.

Until now, the protected discs have been distributed mostly in Europe, with little publicity. But the strategy has already begun to set off some backlash there, as well as among American music lovers who fear they will be unable to use the increasingly popular portable MP3 devices or burn their own CDs of music that they have legally purchased.

The practice is also drawing the ire of several consumer electronics manufacturers, including Sony Electronics, which says it cannot guarantee the audio quality of these CDs on its players, and Apple Computer and Sonic Blue, whose popular portable music players might suffer if copy-protected CDs became the norm.

But the record companies, which largely blame piracy by computer and Internet for the 10 percent decline in US music sales last year, are defending the practice and laying plans to bring more protected CDs to the US market.

The individual labels are being secretive about their market tests. But Macrovision, one of the companies supplying the industry with the technology, said several CDs bearing its copy protection scheme have been released by major labels in the US and are being sold in record stores across the country.

A side effect of several of the anti-copying technologies is that they prevent CDs from being played at all on some computer CD-ROM drives and DVD players designed to play standard CDs.

More Music from the Fast and Furious, which Universal released in December, sometimes will not play correctly on Macintosh computers, and people who listen to the CD on a PC hear the music at lower quality than they would on a CD player.

A label on the back of the CD container warns in small type that the disc is copy protected and says: "Playback problems may be experienced. If you experience playback problems, return this disc for a refund."

But even if the technology evolves to work with more machines, it will continue to thwart what many consumers have come to regard as a fundamental right: the ability to copy music they have legally purchased for their personal use.

Music fans whose parents once copied LPs to cassette tape now take for granted the ability to copy the contents of their CDs onto a hard drive. They can then make custom mixes of their music, or transfer songs to a portable MP3 player for their personal use. They can also burn CDs to sell illegally, or log on to Internet services that let millions of strangers share unauthorized copies of their music.

What bothers some consumers is that the technology does not discriminate between legal and illegal behavior.

"Being treated like a criminal makes me want to act like one," said Ron Arnold, 39, of Royal Oak, Michigan, who has 1,137 songs on his portable iPod, all of which he said he has paid for.

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