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‘Copy-Proof’ CDs Cracked with 99-Cent Marker Pen

LONDON (Reuters) -- Technology buffs have cracked music publishing giant Sony Music's elaborate disc copy-protection technology with a decidedly low-tech

LONDON (Reuters) — Technology buffs have cracked music publishinggiant Sony Music’s elaborate disc copy-protection technology with adecidedly low-tech method: scribbling around the rim of a disc with afelt-tip marker.

Internet newsgroups have been circulating news of the discovery forthe past week, and in typical newsgroup style, users have pilloriedSony for deploying “high-tech” copy protection that can be defeated bypaying a visit to a stationery store.

“I wonder what type of copy protection will come next?” one postingon read. “Maybe they’ll ban markers.”

Sony did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

Major music labels, including Sony and Universal Music, have begunselling the “copy-proof” discs as a means of tackling the rampantspread of music piracy, which they claim is eating into sales.

The new technology aims to prevent consumers from copying, or”burning,” music onto recordable CDs or onto their computer harddrives, which can then be shared with other users over file-sharingInternet services such as Kazaa or Morpheus MusicCity.

Monday, Reuters obtained an ordinary copy of Celine Dion’s newestrelease A New Day Has Come, which comes embedded with Sony’s”Key2Audio” technology.

After an initial attempt to play the disc on a PC resulted infailure, the edge of the shiny side of the disc was blackened out witha felt-tip marker. The second attempt with the marked-up CD played andcopied to the hard drive without a hitch.

Internet postings claim that tape or even a sticky note can also beused to cover the security track, typically located on the outer rim ofthe disc. And, there are suggestions that copy-protection schemes usedby other music labels can also be circumvented in a similar way.

Sony’s proprietary technology, deployed on many recent releases,works by adding a track to the copy-protected disc that contains bogusdata.

Because computer hard drives are programmed to read data filesfirst, the computer will continuously try to play the bogus trackfirst. It never gets to play the music tracks located elsewhere on thecompact disc.

The effect is that the copy-protected disc will play on standard CDplayers but not on computer CD-ROM drives, some portable devices andeven some car stereo systems.

Some Apple Macintosh users have reported that playing the disc inthe computer’s CD drive causes the computer to crash. The cover of thecopy-protected discs contain a warning that the album will not play onMacintoshes or other personal computers.

Apple has since posted a warning on its Website here.

Sony Music Europe has taken the most aggressive anti-piracy stancein the business. Since last fall, the label has shipped more than 11million copy-protected discs in Europe, with the largest proportiongoing to Germany, a market label executives claim is rife with illegalCD-burning.