Copy-protected CDs to draw UK street protests Saturday

The ongoing debate about how to manage copyrights for digital content will be taken to the streets in the U.K. on Saturday with planned protests against the large record companies selling "copy-controlled" CDs.

Organized by the U.K. group, Campaign for Digital Rights, the protests are being planned to take place in front of music retail stores in Brighton, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, London, Newcastle and Rugby, according to Julian Midgley, a company spokesman.

The planned action comes a week after Sony confirmed that it had incorporated its copy-protection software -- called key2audio technology -- in promotional CD copies of the Michael Jackson single "You Rock My World," making it impossible for radio producers to play the CD on PC CD-ROMs or to rerecord the single.

Sony, through its Sony DADC division, has developed the key2audio technology, which, according to the Sony DADC Web site, works by applying several hidden signatures outside the music data area during the CD production process. These hidden signatures work like unique fingerprints and prevent CD-R/RW burners or professional production systems from making unauthorized copies.

Sony contended it has no plans to use similar technology on commercial releases of the record. However, campaigners are concerned that it is simply a matter of time before the major music companies use such technologies to keep consumers from playing their legally bought CDs over their PCs at work or at home, doing so without warning consumers or lowering the price of a CD that some users may find less useful.

The Campaign for Digital Rights contends that copy-controlled CDs are already on sale in the U.K. These CDs can't be played at all on CD-ROM or DVD drives in PCs, can't be converted to MP3 or other electronic formats and will only play on ordinary audio CD players, the groups said. Furthermore, some of these CDs have deliberate errors introduced into the audio data itself to make them harder to copy, which in turn causes the CD to be more prone to skip or click when scratched in ordinary use, the group said.

Protestors are being asked to pass out leaflets Saturday in front of music retail stores owned by such companies as HMV Canada Inc. and Virgin Group Ltd. in an effort to raise public awareness of copy-controlled CDs. The flyers urge consumers to ask the retailers if the CDs they are buying are copy controlled and if the retailer cannot reply, to seek written assurance that the CDs can be returned for a full refund if they are not playable over anything other than a standard audio CD player.

Sony's Michael Jackson promotional CD is not the first case of a CD being copy-protected, nor the first case of a consumer protesting such protection. In May, Music City Records Inc. released "Charley Pride -- A Tribute to Jim Reeves;" what it called the first "Napster-proof" or "cloaked'' audio CD. Music City Records and its parent company, Fahrenheit Entertainment Inc. are now facing a lawsuit filed by a woman in California for infringing on her right to listen to the music.

Using MediaCloQ protection technology from SunnComm Inc., buyers of the CD are required to register the disc before they download it to their computers. Unless the CD is registered it cannot be downloaded into the PC. Music City Records contends the technology has performed as promised in restricting the CD's "copy-ability" and that it will continue to use MediaCloQ in future releases.

Last month, a lawsuit was filed against Music City Records by Karen DeLise in Marin County, California. The lawsuit seeks to bar Fahrenheit and Sunncomm from tracking consumer habits, and to require the companies to provide adequate notice of the privacy intrusions and CD deficiencies, according to DeLise's lawyer, Ira Rothken.

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Laura Rohde

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