By Bernhard Warner
LONDON (May 20) - Technology buffs have cracked music publishing giant Sony Music's elaborate disc copy-protection technology with a decidedly low-tech method: scribbling around the rim of a disk with a felt-tip marker.
Internet newsgroups have been circulating news of the discovery for the past week, and in typical newsgroup style, users have pilloried Sony for deploying "hi-tech" copy protection that can be defeated by paying a visit to a stationery store.
"I wonder what type of copy protection will come next?" one posting on alt.music.prince read. "Maybe they'll ban markers."
Sony did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
Major music labels, including Sony and Universal Music, have begun selling the "copy-proof" discs as a means of tackling the rampant spread of music piracy, which they claim is eating into sales.
The new technology aims to prevent consumers from copying, or "burning," music onto recordable CDs or onto their computer hard drives, which can then be shared with other users over file-sharing Internet services such as Kazaa or Morpheus MusicCity.
SONY AGGRESSIVE ANTI-PIRACY PUSH
On Monday, Reuters obtained an ordinary copy of Celine Dion's newest release "A New Day Has Come," which comes embedded with Sony's "Key2Audio" technology.
After an initial attempt to play the disc on a PC resulted in failure, the edge of the shiny side of the disc was blackened out with a felt tip marker. The second attempt with the marked-up CD played and copied to the hard drive without a hitch.
Internet postings claim that tape or even a sticky note can also be used to cover the security track, typically located on the outer rim of the disc. And there are suggestions that copy protection schemes used by other music labels can also be circumvented in a similar way.
Sony's proprietary technology, deployed on many recent releases, works by adding a track to the copy-protected disc that contains bogus data.
Because computer hard drives are programmed to read data files first, the computer will continuously try to play the bogus track first. It never gets to play the music tracks located elsewhere on the compact disc.
The effect is that the copy-protected disc will play on standard CD players but not on computer CD-Rom drives, some portable devices and even some car stereo systems.
Some Apple Macintosh users have reported that playing the disc in the computer's CD drive causes the computer to crash. The cover of the copy-protected discs contain a warning that the album will not play on Macintoshes or other personal computers.
Apple has since posted a warning on its website at: http:/kbase.info.apple.com/cgibin/WebObj
Sony Music Europe has taken the most aggressive anti-piracy stance in the business. Since last fall, the label has shipped more than 11 million copy-protected discs in Europe, with the largest proportion going to Germany, a market label executives claim is rife with illegal CD-burning.
05/20/02 13:08 ET
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