Recording industry eyes `smart’ CD’s

Other recording companies are cautiously watching the technology, which will be used on a commercial release for the first time next week.

Buyers of hip-hop star Anthony Hamilton’s “Comin’ From Where I’m From” will be able burn three copies per computer and even e-mail songs to a limited number of people, who can then listen to the recordings up to 10 times apiece. The BMG Entertainment album can also be played on a computer.

In recent years, some recording companies have issued CDs with anti-piracy technology designed to prevent listeners from making any copies whatsoever. In some cases, the technology prevented people even from playing their CDs on a computer.

But the technology brought a backlash from music fans.

Recent advancements in copy-protection technology have enabled the industry to offer a less restrictive way of fighting piracy.

BMG, which signed a one-year deal with SunnComm in June, is still deciding when and how often to release more such CDs.

“We are quite hopeful that the technology that they’ve developed is a step in the right direction and is a step which we will hopefully start using more extensively commercially,” said Thomas Heffe, chief strategy officer for BMG in New York.

The industry blames a three-year decline in CD sales on CD-burning and Internet music-swapping networks like Kazaa.

But the top five recording companies have been skeptical of the technology’s effectiveness and leery of consumer reaction, and the CDs with the no-copying-allowed technology have largely been released outside the United States.

“We want to be comfortable with a technology that does allow for some personal use and does respect the work and the copyright,” said Jeanne Meyer, a spokeswoman for the EMI record label.

The industry has instead tried to combat illegal swapping of music with lawsuits, filing nearly 300 of them this month against users of file-sharing networks.

The new copy-protection technology is an alternative to suing listeners, said Peter Jacobs, chief executive of SunnComm Technologies Inc., the Phoenix company that created the MediaMax CD-3 technology used on Hamilton’s CD.

With MediaMax CD-3, each song is written onto the CD twice – once in a format readable by standard CD players and the other as a Windows media file playable on a computer.

SunnComm said that most people, unless they are hackers or truly determined, will not be able to defeat the anti-copying technology.

SunnComm rival Macrovision Inc., based in Santa Clara, has also developed technology that allows only limited copying.

Several labels have shipped more than 150 million CDs overseas with an earlier version of Macrovision’s technology, spokesman Adam Sexton said. Macrovision is talking with several major labels about using the new technology in the United States.

Privately, some recording industry executives say they believe the latest technology is not good enough yet and could be easily thwarted. One past effort faltered when someone defeated it simply by blotting out part of the CD with a marker.

Technology that respects fans’ desire to copy and share songs is good in principle, said Cindy Cohn, legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an online civil liberties group. But said the new technology could still infringe on listeners’ “fair use” rights to copy CDs for their personal enjoyment.

“It is inconsistent with how fair use has always been applied,” Cohn said.

For now, recording labels will watch for fans’ reaction.

“What if they put copy protection in the disc and it doesn’t reverse the decline of CD sales?” asked Phil Leigh, an analyst at Inside Digital Media. “If it doesn’t help, it’s likely to hurt by just annoying people.”

Source: Associated Press