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Music News - Brn&GtBrnt? : Newspaper Cracks EMI CD Protection With Ease

Brn&GtBrnt? : Newspaper Cracks EMI CD Protection With Ease

10 April 2003 - 0 Comments

I've got to admit this - I broke the law researching this story. But it was done to verify facts.

The web was crawling with stories of how easy it had become to crack EMI's "copyright control protection", the brains the company embeds in its CDs to stop people copying them.

Side-stepping EMI's controls is not illegal, but copying the music of its artists to a digital device or blank CD is.

New EMI discs will carry the blocking technology, which music buyers can check for by looking for the copy control symbol - a white play button in a black circle.

But a simple test done by the Herald shows how easy it is to beat EMI's controls.

We were able to copy a number of new EMI titles - Ben Harper's Diamonds On The Inside and Ether Song from Turin Brakes among them - with minimal time and effort and some widely available freeware titles we won't name here.

The programs break down the file structure of a CD, separating the song files from the copy protection software.

The songs can then be extracted, converted to .wav audio files and copied to the computer's hard drive.

The process takes less than a minute a song, and the user gets a number of large, high-quality audio files that can be played back using most standard audio players such as Real Player or Windows Media Player.

A second piece of freeware, downloadable in less than five minutes, converts the .wav files to .mp3 files - enabling them to be burned to CD and played on home stereo systems, car CD players and computer CD drives.

So much for copyright control protection.

The whole process took about 30 minutes - and that was the first try. Now the software is on my computer, I could repeat the entire process in less than five minutes.

It is too early to tell how effective EMI's anti-copying controls, which first appeared in December on Robbie Williams' Escapology album, have been so far. EMI says it has had few complaints about the new technology, owned by US company Macrovision, and fewer of its titles have been turning up in music-piracy raids.

But some reports say it prevents CDs being played on some systems.

Sony, Warner and most other major labels have introduced their own forms of copyright control protection with mixed results.

And the industry recognises that anti-copying measures will never be very effective.

"It's finger in the dyke stuff," says Terence O'Neill-Joyce, chief executive of the Recording Industry Association.

RIANZ wants circumvention of copyright control protection made illegal under the Copyright Act, which may soon be changed to better cover digital content use.

A position paper issued by the Government in December sought feedback from the industry on law changes.

It suggested that a "format shifting" exemption could be included in the Copyright Act, allowing music buyers to make one copy of the music they buy.

It's a suggestion to which RIANZ is "absolutely opposed".

"It would mean we'd just have to withdraw from some of the present litigation we are involved in," said O'Neill-Joyce.

"It's one thing to prove that someone is infringing copyright, it's another thing to prove that they're not doing it for their own personal use."

It's here that the recording industry and the Government disagree.

"The [Ministry of Economic Development] considers that the introduction of a limited format shifting exception would provide certainty where the practice is already common and thought by many consumers to be legal," the position paper says.

"Evidence has not been presented that there would be any significant economic loss to copyright owners and creators."

Ben Harper is at No 2 on the New Zealand album charts with a platinum album - more than 15,000 sales - and has just completed a sold-out tour of New Zealand. So it may seem hard to sympathise with him over losing some sales to the dirty masses.

But the widespread copying of music and the popularity of peer-to-peer file sharing networks such as KaZaA and WinMX are hurting not only the supergroups and multi-platinum artists, but small labels and fledgling bands.

The industry as a whole is struggling with the digital dilemma.

Vaughn Stebbing, who runs CD production house Stebbing Recording Centre, is offering local artists the technology EMI uses to copy-protect their releases.

"This technology makes it that bit harder to copy," he said. "It will stop 80 per cent of people, and that's enough."

Stebbing said the smaller labels he dealt with were desperate to stem falling sales.

"We've seen the sales to some of these people drop by 50 per cent in the last 18 months."

Meanwhile, copying music to disk is tolerated. It is those replicating CDs for gain that are the industry's targets.

"The basic position is that you cannot copy a CD, even one copy," says Simpson Grierson intellectual property partner Earl Gray.

But a private user could possibly mount a defence if challenged in court.

"I would certainly argue the private study [exemption], and some arguments about derogation from the rights you purchased.

"I'd argue some comparisons with books and other content or that the CDs are computer programs and you're entitled to make a back-up copy."

In the end, he said an effective method of obtaining cheaper digital music legally will be needed to stem the tide of illegal copying.

"There is huge debate worldwide about whether copyright owners would ever gain control again, and if they do it will almost certainly be through using a combination of technology and pricing - copy-protected CDs, coupled with 'pay for play' internet/mp3 versions."

The digital dilemma

* The availability of recordable CD drives has made it easy to make high-quality copies of music.

* File sharing services enable people to download music free of charge and store it digitally, denying artists, producers and labels substantial revenue.

* Music piracy is rife, and copy control methods have largely failed to stop illegal copying.

* Copyright law varies among countries. Some allow copies to be made for personal use only.

Recording industry view

* Consumers making copies of music is legally and morally wrong.

* Changing the law to allow personal copies would make circumventing the law easier and worsen the problem.

* Album prices are falling, making legally bought music more affordable.

* Using methods to beat copyright control should be made illegal.

Thanks to www.nzherald.co.nz for this story.

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