Markers may threaten CD copyright protections

An anticopying technology used by Sony Music Entertainment Inc. on music CDs sold in Europe is apparently being defeated by music lovers using simple straight lines drawn on protected CDs with felt-tipped markers.

The development was revealed on Internet discussion group lists late last week by people who had discovered the method.

A spokeswoman for Sony Music Entertainment today said she couldn't comment on the matter and was waiting for an official statement from Sony DADC Austria AG in Austria, which developed the anticopying technology, called Key2Audio. Key2Audio is a special copy-protection technology used by Sony on music CDs sold in Europe, the spokeswoman said.

According to the newsgroup listings, a Key2Audio-protected CD can be "unlocked" and copied by drawing a straight line on top of the ring separating the audio portion of the disc and the data track created by Key2Audio. The technology also prevents the music CDs from being played on standard PC and Macintosh CD-ROM drives.

Sony DADC developed Key2Audio to help the music industry prevent unauthorized duplication of copyrighted music onto CD-recordable discs. The music industry has blamed home CD recordings, in part, for declining sales of music CDs.

Len Rubin, an attorney at Chicago-based Gordon & Glickson LLC, said the legal implications are hazy.

Rubin, who specializes in copyright protection issues, said that under the law, if you own a legitimate copy of a copyrighted item, whether a CD or a book, you can do anything you want with it for your personal use, even if you want to destroy it. "If you bought the Mona Lisa ... you could draw a mustache on it," he said.

On the other hand, the arguments continue to be made that it's against the law to defeat any anticopying safeguards under the federal Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, Rubin said. "Technically, it's a violation," he said of the marker method of stopping CD protection. "But maybe it isn't. It's copyright infringement unless it isn't." The issue is a matter for the courts to decide, he said.

Laura Behrens, an analyst at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn., said the core of the matter is that record companies such as Sony are looking to "find a way to control how their life's blood is used."

But as they try different methods to control copying, she said, "they're discovering that what looks good ... may have unexpected vulnerabilities. In a purely electronic world, their solution may have done what they wanted it to do, but we do have felt-tipped markers at our disposal."

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Todd R. Weiss

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