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Multi-discipline analysis of Music Copyright.


John L. Sokol May 25, 2002



I have been following the issues of  music copy-infringement since I first found out about MP3 back in 1995.  This was really the first practical tool to store CD Quality music on a computer.   Since 1996, I have watched this feud between the Music industry and computer users escalate.  History has shown many times that those who embrace technology become the leaders and those who fight it get left behind.


The incumbent music industry continues to ignore technical solutions and fight the tide of progress with, was seems to be, total irrational arguments and actions against technical progress and what the consumers wants. 


Just looking at some of the clipping of new article from the past two weeks alone is shocking.



A handful of companies provide software that aims to prevent CD ripping. But attempts to embed copy protection in commercial CDs have run into a host of difficulties. Record label BMG Entertainment recalled hundreds of thousands of copy-protected CDs sold in Europe after people complained that the discs were not compatible with some CD players.  CNET March 12, 2002



Technology buffs have cracked music publishing giant Sony Music's elaborate disc copy-protection technology with a decidedly low-tech method: scribbling around the rim of a disk with a felt-tip marker.  Reuters May 20, 2002



About Sony's Key2Audio technology

Mac OS: Cannot Eject Copy Protected Audio Disc, Computer Starts Up to Gray Screen

From the Apple Computers web site - May 25, 2002


This one is a classic since it will render a Macintosh completely useless by the simple act of trying to legitimately play a music CD. Most programmers tend to use their computer to play music all day while they work. To restore the Mac requires a trip to the repair shop to forcibly remove the CD by disassembling the computer and it’s CD Rom Drive.








"watermark detectors would be required in all devices that perform analog to digital conversions." The plan is to embed a "watermark" (a theoretical, invisible mark that can only be detected by special equipment and that can't be removed without damaging the media in which it was embedded) in all copyrighted works. Thereafter, every ADC would be accompanied by a "cop chip" that would sense this watermark's presence and disable certain features depending on the conditions.  EFF MAY 23, 2002



To someone technical, the above statement sounds completely ludicrous.  Detecting a watermark is complex and expensive. By requiring all manufactures to include this in every chip would increase the cost of these chips from 30 cents to 20 Dollars. They would also be larger, consume more power and not work as well. This would cripple countless of Non-Music related ADC applications, from aerospace to medicine. Watermarks degrade the music quality and it is simple to defeat such a watermark.


Global music sales declined to $32 billion last year, a 16% drop from the year before. While some in the music industry blame the overall economy and a shortage of high-quality releases, many label executives put the blame squarely on Internet piracy.

 May 21, 2002 LA Times


The RIAA has been battling piracy for more than 30 years, with most of that time spent on counterfeit products. Last year it seized nearly 3 million counterfeit or pirated discs, a 66% increase over the previous year.  May 21, 2002 LA Times


I think most people would agree that copying is a problem and copyrights need to be protected. But at what cost, and can it be done without stifling technology and innovation?


I believe that most people aren’t interested in stealing, it’s more about convenience and practicality. People have certain expectations, they like the smaller form factors of portable MP3 players and listening to music on their PDA’s, laptops and cell phones. They like the increased storage capacity of MP3 files on Data CD’s allowing 100’s of songs.  People like listening to music on their desktops while working.  A growing number of computer users have become accustomed to ordering and getting the instant gratification of a downloaded music file that can be played instantly.


The industry is trying to force legal action and pass laws that do not fit the reality of the way computers and digital technology work and create laws and solutions that are counter to the established digital culture that the next generation of music listeners live in. As computer oriented people, we have been trained to accept certain forms of copy protection and we believe in fair usage and have strong view of what right and wrong is. We have been trained from video games vendors, Microsoft and the Internet. Any solution that is going to succeed needs to be in line with this culture.


If cigarettes were illegal people would still smoke, it also goes for these uses of music.

The music industry will see dramatic increases of these type uses, the question is weather they choose to see this as an opportunity for new markets, or something bad and try to stop it.


Either the industry will find a way to offer these services themselves or generate a negative image and ill will towards themselves by taking take a strong-handed approach to fight against progress and label these new uses “piracy” and “theft”.


"There is no doubt that technology is going to have to be part of the industry's response to piracy, but it's important to keep in mind that attitudes toward piracy are just as big an issue." 
Sony Music Entertainment Chairman Thomas D. Mottola


One-step in the wrong direction - Midbar Technology’s Cactus Data Shield, SunnComm, Macrovision, and Sony Key2Audio technology are about deviating from the standard CD format such that some players can still work but the computer players will not.   Unfortunately there is no clear separation between a computer CD player capable of making copies and consumer CD players or DVD players that play CD and Car Stereos, so these scheme just prevent disks from playing in CD player with certain chipsets the manufacture selected to build their player and so they can not target just computer users.


Trying to sell people on the idea of reduced functionality CD’s at the same price sounds like a hard sell to me. This is just adding insult to injury. If people are going to accept a copy-protected format there needs to be a number of advantages in it for them as well. Something that is going to get the more technical gadget freaks excited is a requirement.


AOL Time Warner--owner of major record label Warner Music Group and America Online, the world's largest Internet service--confirmed that the company has partnered with others in the industry to create a standard and to "develop the first of its kind player."


Just using the same plastic CD’s with a different data format on them is just as bad. Computers will still be able to read them and make perfect copies, they just connot play them. Creating an entirely new physical media format that the music comes on will help change consumers expectation of how the media is used. The new storage media should be designed such that is cannot be read or written to, using off-the-shelf equipment. The Sony Mini Disk technology had that kind of potential but they just didn’t address any of the issues.


Changing the packaging is only part of it. The data format the music is stored with, the compression and error corrections used, and encryption methods are just as important, but in a new format this can all be transparent and hidden from the consumer perception and should only effect the pirates.


How does one use a technological means to stop copying and at the same time create a positive sentiment with the consumer. One possibility would be to make copying physically impossible but at the same time, offer a more convenient option for legitimate customers. Software could keep track of who owns what music and then allow them free copies of the music they purchase in several formats... within the limits of course.   This could easily be extended to the Internet / software world as well as with a digital rights management (DRM) type of technology.  The key here is that the consumer must be retrained to get free “legitimate” copies rather then having the tools for making these copies in their home. It will be viewed as a convenience and a benefit rather then a loss.  The cost of the physical media and replication is very small once the initial expense is covered, so this option will be far less expensive in the long run.