[rumori] Napster-Proof CDs

From: UbuEditor (editorATubu.com)
Date: Tue Mar 27 2001 - 10:51:19 PST



Napster-Proof CDs: The Music Industry's Secret Plan to Safeguard Popular
Music From the Wild Web
Charles C. Mann
3/27/2001 7:7

If all goes as planned, Charley Pride will make music history in April.
After selling more than 70 million records, Pride -- one of the last great
figures from the pre-Garth, twang-box radio glory days of country music --
is set to release America's first copy-protected compact disk. A tribute to
singer Jim Reeves, who died in a plane crash in 1964, Pride's CD will
incorporate technology that, in theory, will stop listeners from ripping its
tracks into MP3s. If it works -- a hotly disputed question -- copy
protection will change the terms of the battle over online music.

Although at first glance there would seem to be little overlap between
Pride's audience and the ''information wants to be free'' demographic, the
singer was disturbed to find his songs on Napster. ''As I was negotiating
with Charley, I learned that (protecting CDs) was important to him,'' says
Bob Heatherly, head of Music City Records, the independent Nashville label
that Pride joined in January. ''He was especially concerned about the
songwriters,'' says Heatherly, because, unlike singers who can tour,
songwriters depend almost entirely on CD royalties. ''I've seen songwriters
myself who have been close to homeless before they finally got the two or
three hits that let them survive. And so when I realized how important this
was to Charley, I said, 'Let's find a way to make this happen.' '' (Read
Inside's interview with Charley Pride.)

Music City plans to employ patent-pending CD-protection software from
SunComm, a Phoenix start-up. The software passed initial tests in late March
and Heatherly believes that a copy-proof Charley Pride: A Tribute to Jim
Reeves should appear on store shelves by early May.

Pride almost certainly won't be the last musician to use the technology. For
years the digerati have mocked the labels for putting out what are, in
effect, perfect rip-ready copies of digital master recordings. ''The CD is
the root of all of our problems with the Net,'' says Jay Samit, senior vice
president of new media at EMI, which is testing various copy-protection
technologies. ''If CDs were as hard to copy as DVDs or VHS tapes or even
books, we would not be going through anything like what we're going through
now with Napster or Gnutella.''

Prodded by the explosive growth of Napster, and the difficulties of blocking
copyrighted material on any file-sharing service, the labels have been
actively examining methods of copy-protecting CDs. Indeed, Inside has
learned that at least four of the five major labels are seriously evaluating
the technology -- and that at least three have begun or are about to begin
testing it. Although label executives stress that their companies have not
yet committed to copy-protecting their releases, they are unanimous in their
belief that someone will try out the technology commercially within months.

Unfortunately, every CD-protection scheme faces a crucial obstacle: making
CDs unrippable onto CD-ROMs also makes them unplayable on some CD players --
a feature guaranteed to anger customers. The risks were demonstrated clearly
in June, when BMG trial-released in Germany a version of Razorblade Romance,
the second CD from the Finnish tattoo-metal band HIM, that used
copy-protection software from Midbar Technology of Tel Aviv. Despite
apparently extensive testing, about 3 percent of buyers could not play it,
forcing a chagrined BMG to recall the CDs and re-issue the record. (The
label is continuing to test copy-protection systems.)

''Nobody wants to make things difficult for legitimate purchasers,'' says
Cary Sherman, general counsel of the Recording Industry Association of
America, which is helping the labels examine the new techniques. ''But if
piracy continues to spiral out of control, (copy-protecting CDs) will become
more and more attractive an option -- even if it has some negative impact on
some listeners.''


A number of software companies have sprung into existence to help the
industry solve its piracy problems, including SunComm, Midbar and TTR
Technologies, another Israeli outfit. None will publicly discuss how their
products work, but interviews with the labels and audio engineers suggest
they all function in essentially the same way: they take advantage of small
differences between the technical specifications for compact disks, which
follow what is called the ''RedBook,'' or CD-DA standard, and the
specifications for CD-ROMs, which follow the ''YellowBook'' (for straight
CD-ROMs) or ''OrangeBook'' (for rewritable CD-RWs) standards.

The RedBook standard -- named after the red binder it first appeared in --
was defined by Phillips and Sony in 1982, back when Shawn Fanning was still
crawling around bear rugs. Quickly Sony and Phillips realized that the CD
could also be used to house computer files, and in 1984 the two companies
developed the somewhat different YellowBook standard for data storage.
(Phillips and Sony finalized the OrangeBook standard, for rewritable CDs, in

Unlike vinyl records, which store music in a continuous spiral, RedBook CDs
-- the CDs owned by every music fan -- break up music tracks and distribute
them higgledy-piggledy around the disk in ''sectors'' that are similar to
the data sectors on computer hard drives. Because the data are scattered all
over the disc, each CD has a ''table of contents'' that tells the player
where to find each track. RedBook CDs run a maximum of 74 minutes and can
hold at most 99 tracks -- if a CD is longer or has more tracks, the player
won't know how to read the extra music. Importantly, the music sectors on a
CD are interwoven with additional error-fixing data that the player's
built-in software uses to reconstruct the tracks if dirt or tiny air bubbles
from the manufacturing process make little chunks of the disk unreadable.

CD-ROMs, which are also used for computer software, are different. Because
CD-ROMs may have hundreds or even thousands of files, they need to handle
many more than 99 ''tracks,'' which means they have different, larger tables
of contents and can, in theory, hold up to 100 minutes. Because computer
programs can't just skip a bit of code if the disk is dirty, CD-ROMs are
more exacting about error correction. For that reason, a YellowBook CD-ROM
devotes an extra chunk of each data sector to a second method of detecting
and fixing flaws.

According to label executives and audio engineers, copy-protection firms
take advantage of these differences by adding extra data to both the tables
of contents and the music tracks -- data that are ignored by CD players but
confuse CD-ROMs. One purchaser of the Midbar-protected version of Razorblade
Romance, for instance, reported on Slashdot that an Onkyo CD player had no
trouble with the CD, but Cdparanoia, a powerful open-source ripping program,
could extract only 30 seconds of it. The CD player, the Slashdotter wrote,
displayed ''a playing time of 100 minutes, 30 seconds -- not! ... So the
trick seems to be that the playing time of 100:30 is interpreted as 00:30.''
The literal-minded computer software, he suggested, stopped when told it had
reached the end, whereas the ''hifi-player also says 00:30 of course, but
after 30 secs it goes down to 99:59'' and plays normally. (Asked about this
account, a Midbar representative said the firm ''cannot provide more
technical information at this time.'')

Although audio engineers say that planting false data in the tables of
contents is part of every copy-protection scheme, they also aver that the
most important copy-protection techniques involve adding actual errors to
the music. When a standard CD player comes across an error in a CD, says a
technology officer at a major label, ''it basically skips over it and keeps
playing. But a CD-ROM must read every bit of the data. When it detects
something that it suspects is an error, it loops back and rereads the data,
trying to discover how to fix the problem. And ultimately, if the error
can't be corrected'' -- as is the case with the ''erroneous'' data
introduced by copy-protection programs -- ''the software will cease to run
and the CD-ROM will stop playing.''


Trouble is, many high-end and car-stereo CD players use CD-ROM technology,
which is both more accurate and less likely to skip when the player is
jostled. Consequently, some audiophiles and commuters may not be able to
play protected CDs. ''I feel gloomy every time I go on a plane and see how
many people are listening to music with their laptops,'' says a label
executive who nonetheless regards copy protection as inevitable. ''High-end
players, car players, laptops -- those people are going to feel burned, and
justifiably so, if they can't listen to music in the way they like.''

In addition, according to Don Shulsinger of Oak Technology, a CD-RW and
optical-storage manufacturer, the sheer disparity in the technical specs of
CD-ROM brands almost ensures that some CD-ROM machines will always be able
to read copy-protected CDs. ''There is no standard way in which the firmware
inside of a CD-ROM drive is written,'' he says. ''There's massive amounts of
drives out there and the testing copy- protection firms have to do is simply

''We're of course aware of these issues,'' says Emanuel Kronitz, chief
operating officer of TTR, which says two major labels are testing its
software. ''It's a major technological challenge, which is why we believe
that what we've done -- mostly beating it -- is not trivial.''

Even if the compatibility issues can be solved, the Slashdot crowd will
protest that the very idea of copy protection infringes their fair-use
rights. (The industry responds that fair use of music does not include the
right to make entire backup CDs, and that consumers will still be able to
make cassette copies.) More importantly, Internauts argue that copy
protection is futile because it will inevitably be cracked by the Net's
legions of amateur lock-rattlers. In their view, people will get around copy
protection simply by running the output of their CD players directly into
their computer sound cards and capturing the resulting music with
stream-capture programs like Total Recorder. In addition, computer-game
hackers have developed programs -- such as BlindRead, CloneCD and DiscDump,
all readily available on the Net -- that duplicate copy-protected game
CD-ROMs by ignoring the ''errors'' that manufacturers introduce into the
data in an effort to stump typical CD-ROM copying programs. In theory,
people could adapt them to rip protected music tracks.

More methods of beating copy protection will surely evolve, hackers argue,
spurred on with the tacit consent of the computer trade. As chagrined label
executives have often noted, an entire industry -- ranging from webby
start-ups like MusicMatch to giants like Hewlett-Packard and Apple, which
are touting their products as ripping machines -- has grown up around the
CD-ROM and MP3. Will all of these companies just sit on their hands if
copy-proofing becomes the norm?

Copy-protection firms mostly regard hacking threats as marginal. ''It is
always possible that somebody somewhere will break the protection,''
concedes William H. Whitmore Jr., SunComm's vice president of marketing.
(Acknowledging this, SunComm's promotional material promises only ''to
greatly reduce unauthorized digital copying of original content on CDs.)
''But it will be far too difficult for the average user. For them, the
CD-ROM in their computer -- the nemesis of the recording industry -- just
won't play our CDs.''

But even in the best of circumstances, copy-protecting CDs is ''not a
long-term solution,'' according to Talal Shamoon, vice president of media at
the digital-rights management firm InterTrust Technologies, which works
extensively with Universal. Copy-protected CDs, he argues, inevitably remove
possibilities which listeners now enjoy, such as the ability to rip songs
onto CDs. The industry will have to make a better tradeoff with its
customers, he says. As an example, he points to the French techno act Daft
Punk's second album Discovery. Released earlier this month by the EMI
subsidiary Virgin Records, the CD came with a plastic card which gave CD
purchasers access to a special fan-club Web site. The site offered
additional music that is, in theory, available exclusively to people who
bought CDs. ''The beauty of the Daft Punk model is that there's no real
threat to consumers,'' Shamoon says. ''Instead it's aimed at creating an
affinity experience around the compact disc. If you put value in the
consumers' hands, they're less incentivized to pirate.''

Ultimately, though, affinity experiences alone will not save the industry,
in Shamoon's view. ''I've talked to a lot of people in the record industry,
and they all are of the opinion that in the long run, the CD and the CD
player, as they stand now, are basically a lost cause.'' At best, he says,
protected CDs will be a ''bridge technology'' as the industry prepares
itself for ''the only real solution'': replacing CDs with a new kind of
music-playing machine, such as the forthcoming, quarter-sized DataPlay disk,
which should be available by Christmas.

''You're going to need a new generation of secure devices,'' says Dan
Lieman, one of the four mathematicians who co-founded NTRU, a
rights-management firm in Burlington, Mass. ''Ultimately it's going to have
to be done in hardware, because hardware is a lot harder to hack than

Unfortunately, consumers have resisted past efforts to replace CDs with
MiniDiscs, DVD audio disks and Super Audio Compact Discs. For now, the
labels' technologists agree that copy-protecting CDs with software locks is
the most practical way to go. ''Some of the best and most experienced
engineers in the world are working on this,'' says Samit of EMI. ''It's near
and dear to our hearts to get this right.''

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