New technology prevents music piracy

CANNES, France — The ailing music industry is poised to make a new push to copy-proof its music CDs, in hopes of slowing the raging epidemic of Internet piracy.

Microsoft and Macrovision each announced new copy-protection initiatives at Midem, the record industry’s biggest international conference.

The new versions of locked-down discs are intended to strike a better balance between the labels’ desire to keep its songs off unauthorized file-swapping services and consumers’ expectations of flexibility and portability.

Initial experiments with copy protection in Europe produced fierce backlash from consumers, who complained that the discs didn’t play in all CD or DVD players, Apple computers or even some PCs.

Macrovision, the Santa Clara, Calif., company that makes software that secures DVDs and video games, said it has worked out the kinks in its copy-protected CDs. It has released 60 million copy-protected discs in Europe and Japan without compatibility problems, according to Adam Sexton, marketing vice president for music technology at Macrovision.

Sexton said the new version of Macrovision’s Cactus Data Shield software allows consumers to play CDs in their PC, transfer copy-protected versions of the song-files to their computer’s hard drive and listen to the tracks without needing to first insert the disc in the CD-ROM drive.

Microsoft, meanwhile, is making its entry into encrypted music CDs with the introduction Saturday of its Windows Media Data Session Toolkit.

Dave Fester, manager of the Windows Digital Media Division, said the music CDs contain two tracks of music; one that’s in standard CD format, and a second, encrypted data session that plays when the disc is inserted into a computer.

The redbook audio portion of the disc is copy-protected with SunnComm Technologies’ MediaMax CD-3 software, which allows the disc to play in the home stereo, the CD player in the car and a portable Walkman, but is hidden from the PC.

The second session is a compressed Windows Media Audio file that’s wrapped in rights-management software, which controls whether a song can be transferred to the computer desktop or copied.

Depending on the rules that the record labels set, music can be transferred to portable players or used as part of a custom CD compilation, as either a Windows Media file or a traditional “redbook audio” track.

The record label seemed impressed with the technology. “EMI is really excited that Microsoft has provided a tool that makes it easier for music fans to move their music around and enjoy it anywhere,” said Jay Samit, senior vice president of EMI Recorded Music.

©2003, San Jose Mercury News