TCS Daily

Prepackaged Coasters

By Matthew Briney - December 2, 2002 12:00 AM

Before you purchase your next CD, be sure to read the fine print. You may be buying an overpriced drink coaster.

In an effort to curb music piracy, the recording industry is releasing compact discs with manufacturing flaws. These flaws prompt an error when a CD-recorder tries to duplicate a disc.

While this might seem like a reasonable solution to the problem of music piracy, the flaws limit the number of devices that will actually read these discs.

How so? All CDs follow a "Redbook Standard" set forth and licensed by Philips. The standard outlines a manufacturing process that both content creators and electronics manufacturers can adhere to in order to ensure that their products are compatible with each other. The problem with copy-protected CDs is that the physical flaws violate the standards. And that's where the real problems begin.

The copy-protected CDs will not play on a variety of devices including DVD players, personal computers, car stereos, gaming consoles, and even high-end stereo equipment. Of course this really shouldn't be shocking coming from an industry that refuses to adapt to a more concise, portable format like mp3, the very format their customers are demanding.

The problem is wreaking havoc all over the electronics industry. In April, Apple had to post a complicated hotfix after a user inserted a copy-protected CD into his iMac and the disc would not eject. All over the world, consumers like Simon Barber have been experiencing trouble with these defective discs.

One might think that the industry would take some action to regulate itself and cease production of all copy-protected discs. But they are doing the exact opposite. A message from Bertelsmann Music Group (BMG) states that the CDs they produce are Redbook compliant and work on stand-alone home CD players. And they say that it is the fault of the electronics manufacturer if any discs will not play in a device. Meanwhile, the customer is left with lousy merchandise.

Fortunately consumers have a voice. The Campaign for Digital Rights has compiled a list of "corrupt audio discs" that consumers can check before making a music purchase. In addition, Representatives Rich Boucher and John Doolittle are sponsoring the Digital Media Consumers' Rights Act (H.R. 5544) that requires audio manufactures to clearly identify with a standard label those copy-protected discs.

The move, which has been endorsed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), will ensure that consumers are not falsely tricked by discs that display the Philips compact disc logo but are not Redbook compliant. Previous discs were labeled in very small legal print, and not clearly identifiable. The new logo system would be similar to the explicit lyrics industry label program that helped parents knew what type of music their children were listening to.

The recording industry is free to continue down the path of dictating to their customers how they can enjoy their music. But at least with mandatory labeling, consumers will have a real choice.

If you would like to make your comments heard the EFF has setup a form where individuals can contact their Representatives.

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