Monday, June 20, 2005

Fake CD copy-protection

My interest was piqued by the article linked from the title, which is really rather confusing if you read it carefully. Basically, it talks about some sort of copy-protection strategy being incorporated into audio CDs that allows record labels to limit copying. The article says that the copy-protection prevents the content from being transferred onto iPods because it uses Microsoft DRM. Now, this didn't seem to make any sense, because the CDs are still "Red Book" compliant, which means that they adhere to the standards that govern, among other things, data formats, and allow CDs to play on any CD player. A little more poking around brought me to
this article, which makes it clear that this copy protection applies only to PC users, and that no protection or restriction applies to what can be done on Macintoshes. Reading between the lines on the copy-protection vendor's web site, it seems that what they do is add software onto the disk to "fool" a computer into not recognizing the disk as an audio CD, but rather as a collection of audio files protected by Microsoft DRM. Apparently, this is taking advantage of a feature of Windows, and the promised future "Macintosh compatibility" is not the enabling of Macs to read the audio content, but rather getting the protection scheme to work on Macs. Even on PCs, this scheme is easy to get around, perhaps as easy as holding down the shift key while inserting the CD, and apparently Sony will tell anyone who complains how to work around the copy protection!

So, what is the logic behind producing "copy protected" CDs with trivial methods for circumventing the copy protection? If you're paranoid, you might agree with this Slashdot posting, which suggests that what they really want to do is to make all acts of illegal copying -- copyright violation for unprotected disks -- into felony violations of the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) -- circumvention of an encryption device.

And for anyone who thinks that copy-protection can work for digital media, consider that: 1. it only takes one person who breaks the protection to render it irrelevant as non-protected versions proliferate and 2. it is usually a trivial matter to intercept the digital stream somewhere before conversion to analog and copy that stream to an unprotected format (and the software for doing so has many legitimate uses).

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