July 12, 2004 4:00 AM PDT

iPod undermines Microsoft on copy-locked CDs

When a copy-protected CD hit No. 1 on the U.S. music sales charts last month, it marked a breakthrough for the antipiracy technology in all but one sense: The music still wouldn't play on Apple's iPod.

Now the two companies responsible for most copy-protected CDs are scrambling to create new versions of their technologies that are compatible with Apple's popular digital music player. In the process, they're both making substantial changes in the way CDs are digitally locked, changes that could ultimately be a setback to recent Microsoft strides into the music business.

"If you look at the 500 or 600 customer service comments we've gotten, you see that 80 percent of them have to do with iPod compatibility," said SunnComm International Chief Executive Officer Peter Jacobs, whose technology was loaded on last month's chart-topping Velvet Revolver disc. "The rest are, 'Why can't I do what I want with my music.' And a lot of those are really iPod questions too."


What's new:
Two big players in the CD copy-protection business were relying on Microsoft's Windows Media Audio format to placate consumers and create songs that could be copied in a limited way. That gave Microsoft a potentially profitable inroad into the music industry. Until, that is, Apple's iPod became a phenomenon. The iPod doesn't do WMA--thus, neither will many consumers.

Bottom line:
A copy-protected CD recently hit No. 1 on the U.S. charts--without iPod compatibility. Still, some say CDs will have to play nice with the iPod if antipiracy technology is to succeed. That means the door may be closing on Microsoft, and opening for Apple's own FairPlay technology.

More stories on this topic

The effort on the part of record labels to protect music CDs against unauthorized copying and "ripping" has been in limbo for several years while the companies that make the technology have been trying to work out bugs that sometimes prevent discs from being played. But new discs are now finding their way into United States markets in growing numbers.

The idea continues to spark bitter criticism in many circles. For example, the release of last month's Beastie Boys album in copy-protected form in several overseas markets prompted a wave of angry comments on fan sites around the world, even provoking a response from the band on its Web site.

Nevertheless, labels see the success of BMG Music's Velvet Revolver disc, as well as a handful of other recent releases, as a good sign and say they're now likely to go ahead with more experiments. The SunnComm technology used by BMG is anything but bulletproof--simply holding down the computer's Shift key can disarm the protection on PCs--but BMG executives have said the protection is enough to dissuade many casual copiers.

Still, the fact that makers of antipiracy technology are approaching Apple and the iPod marks a new direction for copy protection.

iPod's rise squashes Microsoft advantage
For the past several years, both SunnComm and rival Macrovision have worked to put two different versions of songs on each protected album. The first set of tunes is a locked-down version of the CD's content. The second set consists of digital tracks that can be transferred to a computer or to some portable music devices.

That "second session" has been filled, to date, with songs in Microsoft's Windows Media Audio format. Both companies chose the WMA format because it's supported by virtually every PC on the market, and a large number of different portable players.

The decision, which was never warmly embraced by all the major record labels, appeared to give Microsoft the potential for powerful and profitable inroads into the music business. If songs in its format were to be included on every CD, WMA could go a long way toward becoming a de facto digital music standard.

But the subsequent meteoric rise of the iPod--which does not play Microsoft-formatted music--has forced a change in plans: no more reliance on Microsoft's technology, no more second session and an appeal to Apple for compatibility.

SunnComm and Macrovision each say that the new generations of their technology, due later this summer and early next year, respectively, will let people effortlessly create versions of songs for computers and portable players, in almost the same way people rip CDs to create MP3 files today. Software will be loaded on the music CDs that will help create a new copy-protected file in a form that can be played on an iPod, or on Microsoft-compatible players such as the Rio Karma, or on whatever else a consumer might be using.

"It's clear that because the hot portable player of (the day) is a constantly shifting target, the (era) of having fixed (digital rights management) stored on CDs is over," said Adam Gervin, senior director of marketing at Macrovision.

That's the theory, at least. The sticking point remains Apple, which has not yet licensed its iPod-compatible FairPlay digital rights management technology to anyone.

Some signs point to progress in this area. Gervin said his company has already demonstrated iPod support to record labels, although he declined to say whether Macrovision has a license to use Apple's code in a final product. Jacobs said he too was optimistic that Apple would provide the tools needed.

Indeed, if Apple is able to license its digital rights management technology for use on copy-protected CDs, it could be a promising new revenue source, depending on the terms. Apple declined to comment on the issue.

Analysts said the move toward iPod compatibility is very important if copy protection for music CDs is to succeed.

"It's fairly critical," said GartnerG2 analyst Mike McGuire. "If the labels start hearing that the reason people aren't buying an album is because it won't work on the iPod, then you'll see some reaction."

A Microsoft spokeswoman said the company had been happy with the way its tools had been used by record labels to date but that she was unfamiliar with SunnComm's most recent plans.


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Cracking copy protected cd's is easy
that's why it got to number 1.

tip: stick the cd in your mac, copy all the tracks to your hard
disk, then rip them into itunes. works a treat.
Posted by (15 comments )
Reply Link Flag
That is so not the point
The fact that as of right now it is fairly easy to by pass the copy protection is so not the point and as long as people like you think that way everyone is going to be getting the shaft int he near future and wondering what happen.

If the studios feel that putting out copy protected CDs is ok and sales keep as they were with non-protected CDs that it is only a matter of time before they come up a copy protection that can't be broken. This may or may not included the governemnt passing laws that force electronics makers and computers makers to put the hardware version of the copy protection in to all devices from computers to CD players to everything that plays or can possibily play music. If you can't find or buy a device without this stuff you won't be able to by-pass it. And sure for a while you will just not buy any new hardware, but that is only going to work for so long. Either your old stuff will break and you won't be able to get it fixed because it is now illegal or they will fix it but they have to bring it up to legal standards or something.

In this country the citizens are loosing freedoms and rights left and right. We no longer have a right to backup the media we buy any more. It is only going to get worse unless we stop it now. The best way to do that is to get the jerks out of office that pass these types of laws and to stop buying media and electronics with protections.

Otherwise corporate greed and political stupidity is going to continue to suck our freedoms down the drain.

Posted by (336 comments )
Link Flag
Actually it isn't always as simple as that. It didn't work with the
chili's album. But ;toast' works a treat ;-)
Posted by (1 comment )
Link Flag
Poor research!
I bought the protected Velvet Revolver CD and I'm listening to it
on my iPod right now. I wish people would do a little research
before writing lies! I put the Velvet Revolver CD into my Mac and
iTunes launched, and I was able to import the music onto my
Mac in the wonderful AAC format and onto my iPod. I then
thought I should try it on my test PC at work, I put the Velvet
Revolver CD into my Windows XP PC and was able to import the
songs without any problems. I'm very happy with Apple and it's
great products, AAC is far better than Microsoft's WMA
proprietary format. Wake up people, and CNET, quick publishing
lies, do some fricking research. Take off the Microsoft blinders
and do your job.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
What are you daft...
Sorry fella, Apple is the locked down proprietary format here not Microsoft. Microsoft licenses their audio format to companies as of now Apple does not and that is the whole point of this article.

Apple is everybit if not more a monopoly than Microsoft. Apple keeps far more control over the Macintosh and their music player than any other company. You don't see Microsoft or Intel saying hey you can only use the hardware we allow or license.

The reason Apple gets away with their monopoly is that with 5% or less of marketshare no one gives a hoot.

Posted by (336 comments )
Link Flag
Same here!!!
Ryan Smith Said: <i>"I bought the protected Velvet Revolver CD
and I'm listening to it on my iPod right now. I wish people would
do a little research before writing lies! I put the Velvet Revolver
CD into my Mac and iTunes launched, and I was able to import
the music onto my Mac in the wonderful AAC format and onto
my iPod."</i>

Did excactly the same thing, Ryan. I don't quite understand the
point of this article!!!!!
Posted by Edmund Jacobsen (5 comments )
Link Flag
Use Apple's DRM cause I can crack it
There are some fairly easy to use tools that will remove Apple's DRM.
Posted by unknown unknown (1951 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Really now?
Care to share on a link to one such tool? Email me (KDOggMDF2@Yahoo.com) if so.
Posted by KDoggMDF (25 comments )
Link Flag
Apple licensed Fairplay to Audible.com
The article is not exactly correct. Audible.com has been using
.aac files for over a year. audible books are sold on the iTunes
store in the exact format they are sold on their own website.

To correct the original statement: Apple has not licensed their
software to their competitors. As it is their right to do.
Posted by Darknyht (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
And the price of CD's will go up!
"... if Apple is able to license its digital rights management technology for use on copy-protected CDs, it could be a promising new revenue source"

It would be nice to think that the Record Industry will absorb this cost. Though I think it will be unlikely. Soon we will be paying extra for our crippled CD's.

But then, if they manage to eliminate piracy (unlikely) they will be able to charge what ever they want.
Posted by (14 comments )
Reply Link Flag
iPod is not a worthy device
I don't think that the iPod is really a worthy device. What we really need is an open standard way of protecting the copywrite, but still alowing the music to be transferred to a device that the user is the owner. Buy.com has music downloads in WMA format, but because of the short sightedness of the people Buy.com was dealing with, you cannot backup the licence. The people making the decisions need to get off their high horse and get real. They need to understand the technology, or they need to step down.
Posted by bigjim01 (75 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Missing The Point...
Most of this, entirely misses the point...


Here, yet again, CONSUMERS are having THEIR RIGHTS stripped-away by 'Big-businesses' (using the continually-ringing war-cries of "Copyright" and "Intellectual-Property").

It is of the utmost importance to note that such 'companies', despite their perpetual claims to the contrary, ARE NOT 'protecting their LEGITIMATE rights. 'Copyright' DOES NOT, and NEVER WAS SUPPOSED TO, give 'Copyright-holders' this level of CONTROL over CONSUMER'S USE of THEIR OWN 'PROPERTY'.

Indeed these recent actions (to extend 'unprecedented-levels' of control over the 'use' of the products which consumers have LEGITIMATELY PURCHASED) are SO-OVER-REACHING that,, ...such "Rights Management Techniques", themselves, should be considered to be CRIMINAL-ACTS ( ...when weighed against numerous legally-established 'Precedences' and 'legally-codified' PERSONAL RIGHTS which these actions DIRECTLY-VIOLATE).

And, if you aren't already aware of it, the 'major recording companies', in both Europe and America, actually stated several years ago that "DRM, on ALL media, ...IS going to happen". Nor, does this mention, one of their [various content creators] eventual goals of "Pay-Per-Use" based upon the convoluted concept of, "...media-licensing" (rather than 'private-ownership through one-time purchase').

Furthermore, according to Microsoft, Sony, HP, Cisco, etc. all of this WILL soon be facilitated by 'restrictive technological-measures' built directly into ALL 'consumer digital-devices'.

Finally, for the edification of those professing the FALSE-BRAVADO of, "...any copy-protection can be cracked", ...circumventing such 'copyright protection-measures' is ALREADY a 'Federal-Offense' (under the "DMCA", for example). And, (if 'copyright-interests' get their way) it will soon simply be impossible to avoid 'virtually unremovable' consumer-control measures built-into the basic-design of every available technology (...for more insight, just look-up "TCPA", "SAP", "The Broadcast-Flag", or virtually any of the recently proposed legislation designed to "...protect copyright-holders").

In this same vein, check out:

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://news.cbsi.com/Tech%2C+Hollywood+heavyweights+create+content+coalition/2100-1025_3-5268315.html?tag=nefd.top" target="_newWindow">http://news.cbsi.com/Tech%2C+Hollywood+heavyweights+create+content+coalition/2100-1025_3-5268315.html?tag=nefd.top</a>
Posted by Raife (63 comments )
Reply Link Flag
What ?
I don't understand your logic. Buy a wintel PeeCee and a player that supports the proprietary WMA format ? You can't be serious. You sound like you work for Micro$oft (now THAT is an understatement). Proprietary is not always evil. But when it is inferior than the competition and a company like M$ which disregards any business and technology ethics for more than 2 decades is behind that, it is plain stupidity.
Posted by (9 comments )
Reply Link Flag
All they're ever worried about is compatibility with iPod!!!
Okay. I know the iPod is supposedly the "leading" MP3 player (Although, I've only seen the people on MTV carrying one), and they should be worried about the WMA compatibility with the iPod, but if they switch the format over to AAC or some other Apple format WHAT will that mean for the Dell DJ users, or the Sony and Gateway players?? Apple, You're NOT the only MP3 manufacturer in the world! Make you're player WMA compatible and STOP TRYING TO SHUT ALL OTHER PLAYERS OUT!!!!!!!
Posted by PCCRomeo (432 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Speeding Ticket
Face it people, illegaly copying CD's to whatever hardware or s/w format will end up being a slap on the wrist. Internet security will be so tight that if caught downloading pirated s/w or and "audit" of your PC, iPod, whatever device, you will get a fine, pay the $50 bucks, go to some morals class and go on with your life. Just like getting a speeding ticket...move on already.
Posted by (3 comments )
Link Flag
The ultimate Lock-In....
How can you say the iPod is locking you into a format when DRM'd .wma is only available for Windows, the ultimate lock in. At least DRM'd .aac can be played on both Macs and PC's. Since Microsoft is trying to corner yet another market into it's submission by keeping it's format closed to other computing platforms and forcing users to use Windows.
What's the big deal with what music store you use too, singles are .99ยข in most stores, 128k vs 192k songs sounds nearly identical and a song from one music store is exactly the same as that song from another store. So make all the excuses you may want to justify your purchase of the Dull DJ but saying that Apple's .aac format is a proprietary lock in just doesn't hold water when .wmv means I am locked into using Windows.
Posted by (1 comment )
Link Flag

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