Profit and Loss It's an unfortunate consequence of the recording industry's efforts to clamp down on computer-based copying that people are now having playback problems with dedicated audio gear. Given that some CD players are 20 years old, it's difficult for the inventors of copy-protection schemes to know exactly how their systems will interact with the many different kinds of equipment out there. And there may even be problems with newer gear. In an effort to save money by not having to make two kinds of drives, manufacturers are increasingly using CD-ROM drives, rather than dedicated CD-audio drives, in their CD players. And since many DVD-Video players use DVD-ROM drives, similar problems are likely to crop up there. Electronics manufacturers predict that before too long almost all optical-disc players will use ROM-type drives.
Hardware manufacturers are concerned that the spoiler codes in copy-protected discs, which are designed either to foil CD playback in ROM drives or to ruin CD copies made from them, will overwhelm the error-correction circuitry in CD players or cause them to interpolate so much missing data that the sound will become distorted. Since there are no published specifications for any of the copy-protection systems, manufacturers of CD equipment have no way of knowing whether a copy-protected disc will work in one of their players or what effect any given system will have on the player's performance if the disc does play.
The electronics industry's concerns over playability and recordability have gotten the attention of at least one high-ranking member of Congress. Just before January's Consumer Electronics Show and the formal debut of key2audio and SAV3 at a major music-industry gathering in France, the RIAA and IFPI received a scorching inquiry from Rep. Dick Boucher (D-VA), co-chair of the House Internet Caucus on technology matters. He suggested that CD copy protection violates the Audio Home Recording Act.
But there's some question whether the AHRA gives U.S. consumers the "right" to make digital copies even if they've paid a royalty. Some copyright attorneys contend that the act guarantees only that consumers can't be prosecuted for copying - and thus doesn't prohibit content owners from implementing ways to prevent them from doing so. And the labels might be able to cite 1998's Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which criminalizes any attempt to circumvent copy-protection systems as a precedent for that interpretation. This disturbs Boucher, who is preparing legislation to expand consumers' fair-use rights to digital content. Meanwhile, lawyers for the Home Recording Rights Coalition (HRRC) point out that the existing law gives manufacturers the right to make products that evade CD copy protection if it prevents legitimate playback of the discs that use it.
In a statement to the Congress and Administration, the HRRC said it "believes that any encoding of CDs that interferes with consumer recording rights preserved by the AHRA would constitute a violation of that law. Moreover, technologies that would make signals nonstandard should not be considered protected by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998."
It appears that CD copy protection is at least headed for debate - if not oversight - by the federal government. Boucher has asked the recording industry whether it will permit independent listening tests of the various systems - a move Macrovision has said it will seriously consider.
This wouldn't be the first time that the government has weighed in on sound-quality issues. Back when most music listeners made copies on analog cassettes, the RIAA proposed that the CBS CopyCode system be included in all recorders and recorded audio media. The proposal was squelched by the government when tests done by Sound & Vision's predecessor, Stereo Review, revealed that the CopyCode system audibly degraded the music.
As computers and portable compressed-audio players become ever more popular ways to listen to music, and as hard-disk-based music servers begin to proliferate, the issues raised by copy protection will undoubtedly become even thornier. But at the moment, any resolution seems as far away as ever.
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