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Wednesday, December 19, 2001
Copy protection on new audio CD excludes Macs totally

Universal Music Group has employed a controversial copy protection scheme on a new audio CD this week. Designed to prevent the music on the CD from being pirated, it also excludes the disc from being played at all on Macs, DVD players, and CD-compatible video game consoles.

The company this week released a new soundtrack CD called "Fast & Furious -- More Music." It's the first CD to be released in the United States with special copy protection features designed to prevent the music on the disc from being duplicated on another CD or ripped to a PC's hard drive in MP3 format.

Universal Music Group -- one of the biggest publishers of music in the world -- said that it plans to employ copy-protection on all of its CDs by the middle of next year. It also plans to refund sales of the "Fast & Furious -- More Music" to retailers who are confronted by disgruntled consumers who don't read a warning sticker on the case advising them of the copy protection. Of course, individual retailers and music store chains are left to decide how they'll deal with the problem -- despite Universal's willingness to take back the discs, many retailers employ a no return policy once the CD's wrapper is off.

While this is one of the first publicized efforts at copy-protecting audio CDs from a major American music publisher, it's not the first time it's been done. In addition to a few select incidents involving other domestic music releases, millions of copy-protected CDs have already been published in Europe.

Those efforts haven't gone without legal challenges from consumer advocacy groups. Various technical problems have also tarnished the public relations images of the companies in question -- in some cases, these copy protection schemes render the discs unplayable even on certain brands of regular, run-of-the-mill CD audio players.

Some at major labels and at the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) say that the industry is left with no choice but to employ copy protection on their new works, thanks to the proliferation of MP3 players, easy to use CD mastering software and disc burners, which are now standard issue on many PCs. Even Apple has emphasized in recent ad campaigns how easy it is to use its systems to make mix discs or to use MP3 players -- although its new iPod television ad specifically advises viewers not to steal music.

The issue of greater importance to Apple and Mac users is Universal Music Group's decision to employ a copy protection scheme that totally excludes the Mac platform -- thus rendering the Fast & Furious -- More Music soundtrack useless altogether, even for basic playback on the Macintosh.

With many of today's most popular recording artists, a multitude of labels and a catalog of music that stretches back decades, Universal Music Group is one of the largest publishers of music in the world. If the company adopts a Mac-hostile copy protection scheme across its entire catalog, it could exclude Mac users from the ability to use their systems to simply listen to a multitude of new CD releases in the years to come.

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