Will Smart CDs provide an answer to file swapping?

November 2003

Record Labels

Recording companies are looking at a new generation of smart CDs that promise to stifle music fans’ ability to use file-swapping networks while still allowing them some freedom to make copies and share music. BMG Entertainment’s new album by hip-hop singer Anthony Hamilton will be the first commercial release to use a technology that restricts copying but lets buyers play protected CDs on computers and burn copies onto blank CDs. Fans can even send a limited number of copies to friends over the Internet. BMG is using the new copy-protection advancements by embedding Comin’ From Where I’m From with MediaMax CD-3 technology from Phoenix-based SunnComm Technologies Inc. With MediaMax CD-3, each song is written onto the CD twice, once in a format readable by standard CD players and the other as a Windows media file playable on a computer.
BMG has set up the CD so fans can burn each track three times per computer. Songs can also be e-mailed to a limited number of people, who can then listen to the song up to 10 times each. SunnComm says that most people, unless they are hackers or truly determined, won’t be able to circumvent the limits, including one that keeps songs locked so they can’t be played even if they circulate over file-sharing networks. However it is interesting to note the words ‘truly determined’. Most computer savvy teenagers have little trouble unlocking even complicated protection systems or finding loopholes.
A separate technology CDS-300 has been developed by Macrovision Inc., based in Santa Clara. This is also being used by labels including EMI. The Macrovision technology allows for CD burning and listening on computers. The CDS-300, however, blocks other attempts to make copies or share music online.

See: http://www.bayarea.com/mld/mercurynews/business/6913840.htm


After this article was written, it became apparent that a student who published details of how to circumvent the SunnComm technology by pressing a single computer key was facing legal action under the criminal provisions of theDigital Millennium Copyright Act. Princeton graduate, John Halderman, published a paper online showing how to defeat the copy-protection software. Mr Halderman found that SunnComm’s MediaMax CD-3 software could be bypassed by simply holding down the shift key on a Windows PC when the copy-protected CD was inserted into a disc drive. This temporarily disables the autorun function on Windows, stopping the anti-piracy program from installing itself on the computer. It now appears that SunnComm have decided not to take any action.

This shows just how difficult it is for the record and film industries to defeat those determined to copy material in the digital age. As soon as encryption and protective technologies are written …. they are broken. In a separate matter, The MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) are also looking for US Government support to ensure hardware manufacturers include content protection technology in future televisions (the so called ‘broadcast flag’). The Federal Communications Commissions is due to rule on the matter.

See: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/3180212.stm

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