Copy protected CDs - What is it about?

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The artists / record company's point of view

The world music sales have been decreasing during the last years. One major reason for this development is the increase of piracy. Many people who don't care for copyrights are making unauthorised copies to recordable CD-Rs or download the music they're listening to from file sharing systems through the internet for free.

At these levels of massive copying and piracy, huge damage is being done to legitimate recorded music sales. If an artist's work is no longer appreciated and none is paying for the music he likes, none good music will be produced anymore. Think about it. Do you still want to listen to the music you like in the future? A clever parasite has to ensure his host will survive and gets feeded.

The IFPI copy protection logo

So there has to be done "something" against piracy. The music industry decided that this "something" is to put some kind of "protection system" on audio CDs. This means that it should be possible to play these disks using an audio player device, but it should not be possible to make a digital 1:1 copy.

The consumer's point of view

I'm a "hunter&collector" paying for the music I like. But when I bought it, I want to listen to the music without restrictions:

  • I'm listening a lot of music on my mobile CD/MP3-player, when I'm walking or traveling by train or car. To keep my valuable original CDs safe from damage or loss (scratches are usual for mobile use), I'm using burned CD-R or MP3 for this purpose (MP3 has also the advantage to reduce the amount of disks you have to carry with).
    With copy protected CD's it's now harder for me to do this, and with the recent copyright laws (at least in Germany) it's now also illegal if the original has some kind of protection.
    What is the alternative? Would each record company really offer me a free lifetime 24hour replace service for my lost and damaged original CDs instead?
  • "Copy protected CD" are designed to play on "audio-only" players correctly. But do you still have "audio-only" players? Me not. I have no reason to buy a new device for audio CDs only. There are "multi-disk-format" players who are able to handle DVD's, Video-CDs, MP3 CDs and Audio CDs. One device for all digital laser disks to save space and energy. And of course I want to listen to my Audio CDs when I'm sitting in front of my computer, in full quality on a Linux system using my multi-disk CD/DVD-ROM drive. Unfortunately, many "copy protected CD" are making problems on these kind of drives and can't be played. This is unreasonable.
    (Some protection systems, like CDS-200 from Midbar/Macrovision, are offering a Windows-only player with reduced quality. Also unacceptable, since they don't work on Linux, and if I would have to use it on Windows I want full quality.)
  • Many protection systems (like the one used on the protected edition of Dido's "Life For Rent") are placing 'artifical errors' on the CD and trust that the 'regular' audio players will automatically 'correct' these errors. A media with build in defects is totally unacceptable for me.
  • It takes some effort to develop copy protection systems and put them on a CD. These costs makes CDs more expensive than necessary, or prevents the record company to make some more 'reasonable' investments like supporting newcomers or building up longterm artists.
  • I have no problems playing 20 or 30 year old vinyl records on my record player. Why? Because both the manufacturer of the record and the player device complied to a standard. For Audio CDs, there is also a standard defined in the so-called "Red Book". Every copy protected CD is violating this standard! So, even if some of my current multi-disk-players should play a copy protected non-CD, how can I be sure that in 20-30 years I will still be able to listen to my original non-standard non-CDs with the player devices I'll have then?
    (Well, if you look at the charts dominated by fast-food crap these days you can get the impression that nobody cares for long-term musical taste any more - but that's another topic)
  • Copy protections on CDs are never ever 100% secure. They don't make a copy impossible, just harder. Professional pirates are laughing about these kind of things since they'll always have the knowledge and devices to bypass them. And if just one of them are spreading the unprotected songs, the pirate has an advantage above the honest customer since he doesn't have to bother with all the restrictions copy protected non-CDs have.
  • The Australian Record Industry Assocation (ARIA - announced that 2003 was one of their best (!) years ever with a turnover increase of nearly 6%! Quote from
    The size of the overall market for recorded music increased during 2003 and was up 5.98% in value from 2002 (increasing from $609.5 million to $646 million). Nearly all of this growth has been attributable to increased sales of music DVDs. Excluding music DVD, the market remained relatively flat at $573 million. 2003 saw CD album sales volumes increase by 7.85% in stark contrast to the significant decline in the volume of CD single sales, which reduced by 16.6%.
    Do you believe that Australians do not burn CDs and do not use internet file sharing as much as Europeans and Americans do? Me not. It's very doubtful that the decrease of sales in these countries can only be blamed on these things.
  • There are studies that comes to the conclusion that using file sharing systems has no effect on CD sales. In my opinion, using file sharing systems will even increase sales, since when you find something you like, usually you want to explore the newly discovered artists and get more releases. When you're not allowed to swap, how should you introduce other people to artists they didn't knew before? Only by listening to boring television and radio filled with mainstream crap?
    See for example "We find that file sharing has no statistically significant effect on purchases of the average album in our sample".
  • I doubt that copy protected CDs will increase sales. Parasites remain parasites, you can't convince them to pay for music by punishing your paying customers instead. People who never or rarely bought original CDs so far have no reason to buy now copy protected original CD. And many consumers are getting angry and will discontinue to pay for restricted non-standard non-CDs.

So, as an honest customer who pays for the music I like, copy protected CD are making me very angry since the restrictions are not acceptable for me. I want a value for my hard earned money, not mutilated non-CDs.


It's probably hard to satisfy both parties on this topic. But I think it's unacceptable to 'punish' a honest customer with restrictions a pirate doesn't have.

  • One idea would be to add "non-copyable value" to original unprotected CDs, like 'noble' packaging or bonus features.
  • Another one would be to release two different editions of a CD, a cheap copy-protected one and a slightly expensive "Red Book"-conform one. So both kind of consumers can be satisfied, those who are wanting cheap fast-food and those who are wanting unrestricted long-term music enjoyment.
  • Piracy belongs mostly to new releases, so I can also think about including a voucher to copy-protected CDs with whom you can get a "Red Book"-conform CD after a 'grace' period (for example 3 months after first release). It's enough to send the 'naked' disc since you can keep the jewel case and packaging.
  • And finally, to come to the conclusion that you can't prevent private non-commercial music copies, can't fight professional pirates this way, only making honest customers angry and should better spend energy and ressources for more usefull things. There are still several "unprotected" releases placed high in the charts, so they also do sell well.
    It's a very bad strategy for a company to make their customers angry and upset. They will discontinue to remain a customer.

These are just some ideas for proposal. If you know more about this or have comments or suggestions, please let me know.


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Last Update: 2004/08/23 07:02:56
Stefan Sell (