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Monday, April 08, 2002
BMG to test protected CDs on industry insiders

A new batch of compact discs designed to defeat Napster-style piracy is coming soon to record-industry insiders. BMG, one of the world's five major labels, said on Monday it would start issuing promotional CDs -- the free discs distributed to critics, retailers and other insiders weeks before the official release -- with technological countermeasures to prevent copying.

The major labels, which include Vivendi Universal, Sony Music, EMI Group, AOL Time Warner's Warner Music and Bertelsmann AG's BMG, hope that copy protection measures will prevent users from "ripping," or copying the music into the easily traded MP3 format.

"The first benefit of doing promos and advances is to get feedback on the technology," said Kevin Clement, BMG's senior director of new media. "And we would hope this technology will stop the records from leaking early to the public."

Popular records like Outkast's "Stankonia" and D'Angelo's "Voodoo" were freely available to the public weeks before their release dates via Napster, the currently shuttered music-trading service that spawned a online music swapping revolution and is now partially owned by Bertelsmann.

The label said most of its protected discs would contain two versions of the album, one for use in consumer CD players and another encoded in Microsoft Corp's encrypted WMA format, for playback on PCs and compatible portable music players.

None of the major labels have committed to a full-scale roll-out of protected CDs, in part because of backlash in Europe after altered discs did not play on some CD players.

BMG's release of Natalie Imbruglia's "White Lilies" in the United Kingdom last year, for example, prompted numerous returns of the disc to retailers. And Sony's Celene Dion CD released in Europe last month, "A New Day Has Come," reportedly caused some computers to crash.

BMG said in a statement it eventually hopes "to arrive at a copy management solution that offers consumers the experience the artists create and deserve reward for."

The company declined to say which companies it was working with to provide the promotional CDs' technological countermeasures, but Clement said the label hoped the promotional discs would work with virtually all compact disc players when they launch later this month.

"One hundred percent, that's our goal and that's what we've charged the technology companies to hit," he said. Asked if that goal was reachable, given the current state of the technology, he said, "We'll soon find out."

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