Known Johnson

October 5, 2005

Sony’s XCP copy protection

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 9:22 am

It’s been a while since I went on a copy-protection rant, so here’s a good ‘un to keep you satisfied.

I’m quickly growing completely furious with Sony and their insistence on burdening all of their new releases with copy protection. It used to be a simple annoyance that discs included this crap because it was easy to get around: on your Windows machine, hold down the Shift key or disable Autorun, and you won’t be bothered by the copy protection. Now, however, Sony has unveiled (well, not really – they don’t talk about it at all) a new scheme to keep the people who actually purchase the music from doing what they want with it: XCP, or eXtended Copy Protection. This isn’t actually new – reports on CD Freaks date back to mid 2002, but it’s suddenly been the standard on all Sony discs this year. The problem with XCP is that it prevents copying by corrupting the data that a CD-ROM drive would read, but that a regular CD player ignores, and instead offers you a special player that installs so that it can be played and ripped to protected Windows Media format files that can only be used in the small number of players that support the format – a format that all 27 million Ipods in the world cannot play. This has eliminated my interest in a growing number of Sony-related releases, a few of which are the Dave Matthews Band’s Stand Up, Foo Fighters’ In Your Honor, David Gray’s Life in Slow Motion, the Bad Plus’ Suspicious Activity (ironic title, eh?) and, just this week, Fiona Apple’s Extraordinary Machine.

The interesting thing here is not just that Sony has rolled out this copy protection scheme but they’ve done it at the same time as promoting DualDiscs of almost every title that has a corresponding XCP-laden “CD” release (because any disc that will not perform in a player displaying a CD- or DVD-logo is not legally a Compact Disc and cannot legally be promoted as such.) Who owns the rights to DualDisc technology? Why it’s Sony! If I haven’t made myself clear, allow me to expand on this: Sony is offering copy-protected discs that it knows the public doesn’t want. Doing a search on any of the artists I mention above paired with copy protection will yield many complaints registered on music forums and blogs – people do not appreciate being told how to use their music. So Sony has seen to it to release DualDiscs the same day as the copy-protected discs come out. Thus far, only Sony has invested, in the US at least, in copy protection, and they are also the sole users of their own DualDisc technology.

And what is a “DualDisc,” you ask? Basically, it’s a CD and a DVD bonded together on one disc. The CD side plays audio, and the DVD side can contain videos or a hi-resolution DVD-audio program of the music. Except in order to put these two formats together, the thickness of the plastic layer must be thinned in order for it to fit into most CD players. In doing this, Sony has violated its own rules about what legally constitutes a CD and a DVD, and many medium- and higher-end players will not recognize these discs because of the exacting standards to which they’re constructed. The result is another disc format that may or may not play, depending on your player of choice.

Now, if you haven’t connected the dots already, let me do so for you: only Sony uses DualDiscs, and they own the rights to it, but they’d like to “share” this technology with all of the labels. The other labels, however, have not shown much interest – they’d rather not pay Sony for anything they don’t have to, basically, and they don’t see it as necessary thing anyway. Sony’s pretty smart, I have to give them that – they know that people don’t want copy-protected music, so buyers are going to seek out an alternative. Why not offer them DualDiscs that suspiciously do not feature copy protection, right? Sony needs sales of DualDiscs to skyrocket so other labels will think buyers want the piddling extras that the DVD side offers . . . so they’ve made the only other option a copy-protected disc that leaves a bad taste in the mouths of buyers. Essentially, Sony has ensured that DualDisc succeeds, but not because it’s a superior format – it’s only because people don’t want copy protection. That’s not much of a measure of success, is it?

And believe me, if/when DualDisc takes off, the copy-protected audio discs will disappear – and copy-protection will suddenly rear its head on the DualDiscs. Guaranteed.

The music you buy is yours. You own a license to it when you purchase the music, whether it be a CD or a DualDisc, or even a download from ITunes or Emusic*. Neither Sony, nor any label, has the right to tell you how you can use that music as long as you use it for your own personal use. That’s the law. But Sony’s taking that right away from you. As consumers, our only option is to simply not respond- don’t buy from them at all. The only better way to send a message to the labels that support infringing your rights is significantly more annoying for the buyer: buy titles and take them back as defective – because that’s what they are – and do so as many times as you possibly can. Unfortunately, the artists will be hurt either way – but maybe it’ll help convince them to jump ship from these backstabbing labels to ones that both support the artist and the listener.

UPDATE:While out to pick up the new live Iron Maiden album, Death on the Road, I checked out the new Fiona Apple album (yeah, I know, interesting pairing of interests.) It turns out that Sony did not crapify this new album with copy protection! I can’t imagine what logic Sony applies to who gets CP’d and who does not, but I’m figuring maybe in this case they knew they had a steep hill to climb to woo buyers who downloaded the leaked Jon Brion-led album into forking over money for something they kinda-sorta already have. $9.99 at Best Buy, folks. Run out and buy it – it’s a stunner.

*Regarding Emusic: a great solution for those of you who don’t like to limit yourselves to what player you can listen to your music on – the Itunes store is Ipod only, Rhapsody and most of the others are specifically anti-Ipod. Emusic offers subscriptions for 40-90 downloads per month for a very reasonable price – $9.99-$19.99. The downloads are 192kbps mp3s with no DRM (because the mp3 format does not support protection.) What’s more, Emusic specializes in indie and jazz. They offer 50 free downloads just for signing up, and you can cancel if you feel like you’ve wasted your money somehow. I haven’t signed up yet, but I have a feeling I may just do this very soon.

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