The key2audio system, from Sony Digital Audio Disc Corporation (Sony DADC), prevents you from playing a protected disc on a computer, although a recently announced option, key2audio4PC, would let disc buyers download a version that's locked to their specific machine. A nine-digit serial code on the disc unlocks access to the online files for downloading. You can copy the files to a blank CD - but that disc is then playable only on the computer where the copy was made.
If you send the files to another computer via the Internet, the recipient can't play them. And if someone else gets access to the key code, he can't download the files because the Web server knows they've already been downloaded.
According to Sony DADC, the music on key2audio discs is purely standard CD audio with none of the built-in uncorrectable errors typical of main-channel protection schemes. It also claims that key2audio discs will play "on nearly all hardware dedicated to playing audio CDs," including home, mobile, and DVD players and videogame consoles. But the company won't say if "nearly all" includes standalone CD recorders.
Although Sony DADC won't detail how the key2audio system works, patents reveal that it uses a variety of methods. These include control-channel protection that modifies the timing data in the Q-subcode, which prevents computer drives from reading the disc. The altered data also provides the key needed to unlock the downloadable key2audio4PC files.
The patents also suggest that key2audio uses the Serial Copy Management System (SCMS) employed by standalone CD recorders, and an executive at Sony DADC confirmed this. The presence of an SCMS "flag" indicating (falsely) that an original disc is a first-generation digital copy explains why you can't make a digital copy of a key2audio title - like 'N Sync's Celebrity - on a standalone recorder (see "Hands-On with Rogue Discs").
The company recommends that key2audio licensees "inform record buyers about the use of copy protection." But despite the company's claim to have shipped 10 million key2audio discs in Europe, no such advisory has been reported except for the European release of Celebrity, which didn't identify the type of copy protection used.
Patents haven't yet been published for SunnComm's MediaCloQ, so it's hard to say exactly how it works, but computer access works similarly to key2audioPC. The disc itself won't play in a computer, but it carries a unique identifier that allows the buyer
to download a version for playback on the registered machine. At the discretion of the content owner, transfer of the file to a single portable device is also possible - but the file can't be transmitted beyond that.
SunnComm claims perfect compatibility with standard CD players, and so far no one has claimed to have any trouble with the single MediaCloQ release to date: Charlie Pride's A Tribute to Jim Reeves (Fahrenheit). But that disc, the first known to be issued in the U.S. with copy protection but without a specific warning that it won't play in PCs, is subject to a lawsuit in California. The complainant argues that she wasn't adequately informed that the disc wouldn't play in computers (the disclaimer merely said that the disc would play only in CD and DVD players) and that MediaCloq's online registration requirements violate her right to privacy.
This system might never see the light of day, sources at the London-based International Federation of the Phonographic Industries (IFPI) say, for several reasons conceded in the patent. The system uses control-channel protection to upset a disc's timing codes. The patent asserts that the protected discs would work "in the majority of audio CD players" but would disrupt computer copying. However, the system "also prevents legitimate usage such as the importation of data into portable players developed under the SDMI," or Secure Digital Music Initiative, which was founded under the IFPI's auspices. The patent is also frank in admitting that the system would prevent music playback on "high-quality systems such as the Meridian 800 Reference DVD/CD Player."
Stephen A. Booth regularly covers software copy-protection and related technical and legal issues as senior editor of the industry newsletters Television Digest, Audio Week, and Consumer Electronics Daily.
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