The music industry is having to rethink its drive towards copy-protecting music CDs, following people-power protests and probing questions from US politicians.
BMG in Europe had launched two of its chart CDs, Natalie Imbruglia's White Lilies Island and Five's Greatest Hits, with copy protection technology but have now switched production to "clean" unprotected CDs, following consumer complaints. The discs were launched "clean" in Australia.
In the US, Universal's new compilation CD of Fast and Furious rock music is copy-protected but is clearly marked with consumer warnings, unlike previous discs. BMG released both their CDs with only a small print reference to "Cactus Data Shield" and no explanation that this meant it was copy-protected and might not play properly on computers and some CD players.
In a further development, Congressman Rick Boucher, has written to music industry trade bodies, the Recording Industry Association of America and International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, to warn them that selling CDs that inhibit home recording may violate the 1992 Audio Home Recording Act (AHRA).
Boucher, Co-Chair of the US Congressional Internet Caucus Committee, points out that the AHRA levies a royalty of two per cent on the price of recording equipment and three per cent on blank tapes and discs, to legitimise home recording. Preventing home recording through copy protection removes the justification for the AHRA levy.
Speaking for the IFPI and RIAA, Hilary Rosen, President and CEO of the RIAA, says the music companies are seeking "the right balance".
The UK is the only country in Europe where it is illegal to make a copy of a paid-for CD for personal use. Like the US, most major European states levy a royalty on recording media.
But lawyers for the IFPI's Head Office in London insist there is no link in European law between paying the royalty and being allowed to make a copy.
BMG spokesman Nigel Sweeney says that the Five CD produced only three complaints about copy protection and blames the larger number of Imbruglia complaints on an orchestrated campaign.
But he says: "No other copy-protected titles are planned. Everything has to be correct technology-wise."
Martin Dalgleish, of world-renowned British hifi company Linn, warns that getting copy-protection technology right is increasingly hard because consumer manufacturers often cannot get good quality CD drive components and use computer ROM drives instead - which can make copy-protected discs misbehave.
He says BMG's copy-protected discs are not standard CDs: "They change the rules in a totally unpredictable way. There is no published specification and therefore it is impossible for Linn or any other company to predict the playability of these discs."