The first major release of a copy-protected CD appears to be “Rock Your World” by Michael Jackson, according to Need To Know – the promo copies work on most CD players, but are unrecognised by current CD-ROM firmware.
This is a problem for all consumers – as the UK Campaign for Digital Rights points out, “These new CDs will play fine to start with, but underneath, the sounds have been subtly corrupted. Your CD player has to work much harder to play the music correctly, so after a few scratches, you’ll have tracks going wrong MUCH SOONER than with normal CDs. In truth, these CDs are not as good quality as normal CDs.”
The Campaign recommends a policy of taking back non-playing CDs as defective immediately (pointing to the ‘CD Digital Audio’ logo, which does constitute a claim that the disc meets the logo’s standards), or taking it back if it fails after a short time.
MICHAEL JACKSON’s new single seems likely to “Rock Your World” in more ways than one, as promotional copies sent out by Sony appear to be the first examples spotted “in the wild” of audio CDs which won’t play in PC CD-ROM drives. “When loaded into the CD drive, the disc spun continuously as though the drive was trying to access the TOC of a blank or corrupted CDR”, reports our correspondent, a producer and sound engineer, adding: “None of our stand-alone professional or domestic CD players had a problem with it”. Of course, this is exactly what Macrovision’s SafeAudio (or similar copy-protection systems) are intended to do: insert “bad” error-correction codes, which audio CD players can interpolate around, but higher-precision CD-ROM drives don’t, effectively preventing you from ripping (or listening to) any tracks on your PC. The UK’s Campaign for Digital Rights (formerly the “Free Dmitry Sklyarov” guys) are still planning a leafleting campaign alerting shoppers to this ingenious reduction of their music’s self-healing properties (making CDs more susceptible to scratches or other damage) – though perhaps an “explicit lyrics”-style labelling system wouldn’t go amiss either, for those of us who just don’t own a non-CD-ROM CD player.
The copy protection is expected to last until CD-ROM manufacturers – or third-party programmers – can produce firmware which can cope with the protected CDs. This should be much easier with examples to hand. Third-party programmers are quite adept at this sort of thing – witness the regular appearance of region-free DVD chips for players that are not region-free from the manufacturer.
Need To Know is alarmingly clue-enhanced. I recommend you subscribe immediately.