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Tuesday, 1 May, 2001, 15:27 GMT 16:27 UK
Record makers lock music away
Padlock and key BBC
Lock and key: Music companies want to protect their products
By BBC News Online technology correspondent Mark Ward

Digital locks are being put on to CDs in a attempt to stop music piracy.

Later this month, small independent label Farenheit Entertainment will release the first copy-protected CD, which it hopes will make it easier for artists to control who listens to, and pays for, their music.

The system used on the CD is only the latest of many attempts by record makers and publishers to stop people pirating pop.

But it remains to be seen if consumers will accept restrictions on what they can do with music they have already paid for.

Country copy

On 15 May, legendary country singer Charley Pride is releasing his latest CD, a tribute album to Jim Reeves. Sitting alongside the music is a cloaking technology that Pride's label hopes will stop the CD being pirated.

Willie Nelson AP
Willie Nelson could soon be cloaked too
The CD plays like any other in a hi-fi, car stereo or portable player, but resists the attempts of software "rippers" to convert the music into an MP3 file.

The MP3 format turns bulky CD-quality music files into smaller versions that sound almost as good. Many people have created illegal MP3 versions of the music on CDs they own and then shared them on the net via websites or services such as Napster.

But anyone trying to turn the tracks on the Charley Pride CD into MP3s will find themselves redirected to a website that will authenticate the CD, and then let them download legitimate Windows Media versions of the tracks they want.

Artist protection

Later this year, SunnComm, the company that created the music protection system, is planning to release software tools that let people put together authenticated compilations of music tracks.

Peter Trimarco, the head of country/jazz label Farenheit Entertainment releasing the CD, said the technology gave fans of Charley Pride a fuller experience and helped protect the music from piracy. "We think this will be big," he said.

SunnComm's MediaCloQ system is only the latest attempt by the recording industry to protect the music put on CDs. So far, Farenheit is the only company signed up to use it. But companies such as InterTrust, Liquid Audio and many others have developed authentication systems that try to stop people pirating pop or any digital media.

In December 1998 the recording industry set up the Secure Digital Music Initiative to develop watermarking and protection systems for CDs and digital music tracks.

Subscription models

The efforts of the SDMI have been criticised by academics who say the technology it is developing does not work. So far, legal threats by the recording industry have prevented the academics from publishing their findings.

Copies of the paper produced by the researchers, however, are circulating widely on the net.

But many media commentators believe that consumers will not accept restrictions on what they can do with music they have already paid for.

Many expect that subscription models of paying for music will eventually win out over copy-protection systems that force people to work hard to listen to music.

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