Congress Asking Questions about Copy-Protected CDs

  • Congress Asking Questions about Copy-Protected CDs
    CNET reports that Rep. Rick Boucher, Democrat from VA, is asking the recording industry about the legality of making copy protected CDs, in light of the 1992 Home Recording Act which specifically allows consumers to make personal-use copies of music they’ve purchased. The Act stipulates royalties be paid on blank recording media which goes back to the recording industry to compensate them for supposed lost sales. This is why audio CD-Rs, which work in home CD-R decks, cost a bit more than data/computer CD-Rs, which won’t work in home decks. Rep. Boucher questions if copy-protecting CDs will make the recording industry ineligible to continue receiving royalties on blank media.

    I agree with this line of questioning, since the Home Recording Act came about over the recording industry’s (successful) effort to stall the introduction of Digital Audio Tape (DAT) to consumers in the US. The Act was Congress’s effort to strike a compromise between the recording industry’s hysterical fears of lost profits from consumers using DAT to make perfect digital copies of CDs and the desire to bring digital recording technology to the US. I would never put it past the recording industry to belly up to the table to double dip on royalties.

    However, there are a couple of possible gaps in Rep. Boucher’s concerns. It is my understanding that the new copy-protected CDs are made to work in standalone CD players, but not work quite right in DVD or CD-ROM drives, making them very difficult to rip for copying. Most home CD-R decks use a regular CD player as the source for the recording which should provide an uncorrupted digital audio data stream that can be recorded. This is because home CD recorders don’t really read or “rip” the data like a CD-ROM drive in your computer. The process of copying CDs using home decks is more analogous to copying to DAT or minidisc from a CD player with a digital bitstream output, which I believe the copy protection scheme does not affect. Thus, if copying is still possible using home CD-R decks, which only use royalty-paid blank audio CD-Rs, then the Home Recording Act is not violated. Since plain data CD-Rs are not royalty paid, then the inability to use them to copy CDs using a computer does not violate the Act.

    Still, this is hypothetical, since I don’t have a home CD-R deck to try it out on (if someone does and can confirm or correct me on this please e-mail!). I do, however, have a CD/Minidisc combination deck that I could test copying a copyprotected CD to MD on. That would at least test my supposition that the digital audio data stream remains intact.

    Whether or not this legal loophole might exist, I nonetheless think that the CD copy protection scheme stinks. It’s a sad but unsurprising act of bad faith on the part of the recording industry which has profited more off people sharing their music than it’s lost. But it’s a horrifically conservative industry that steadfastly clings to established models and approaches, even when they show signs of failing or were never even good to begin with, calling upon government intervention to save its shitty business models. Like any major corporation, the recording industry only hails the free market when it provides a significant advantage in exploitation — such as singing naive young artists to slave-labor contracts. It’s my hope that copy protected CDs ends up being just a techno-cat-and-mouse game, with the hackers staying closely ahead of the industry.

    Resist the control of your culture.


  • Copy Protected CDs and Unintended Consequences for Radio, 11/13/01
  • List of Corrupted CDs, 11/12/01
  • Copyright, Fair Use, Free Speech, 11/2/01
  • Digital Media Distribution: Is the Honeymoon Over?, 10/10/01

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