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 Friday, 22 November, 2002, 15:41 GMT
Efforts to stop music piracy 'pointless'
Compact disc close up, BBC
History will defeat attempts to stop CD piracy
Record industry attempts to stop the swapping of pop music on online networks such as Kazaa will never work.

So says a research paper prepared by computer scientists working for software giant Microsoft.

The four researchers believe that the steady spread of file-swapping systems and improvements in their organisation will eventually make them impossible to shut down.

They also conclude that the gradual spread of CD and DVD burners will help thwart any attempts to control what the public can do with the music they buy.

Doomed disks

The paper was prepared for a workshop on Digital Rights Management, (DRM), at the US Association for Computing Machinery's annual conference on Computer and Communications Security.

Digital Rights Management describes attempts to stop people copying music from CDs and sharing the tracks via peer-to-peer networks such as Kazaa and Madster.

To stop this piracy some music makers are starting to produce CDs that will not play on computers.

Websites such as the Campaign for Digital Rights are documenting which CDs will and will not play on home computers.

The music industry as a whole is also using the courts to shut down file-swapping systems and so far has enjoyed some successes.

Alicia Keys, AP
CDs by artists such as Alicia Keys are copy protected
But Peter Biddle, Paul England, Marcus Peinado and Bryan Willman write that ultimately these attempts at control will fail.

The success that the music industry has had in stopping file-swapping on systems such as Napster was due entirely to the fact that many of them rely on a few people to provide most of the material being swapped.

By targeting these super-swappers the record industry could severely restrict how much music is available to the majority of members who take without sharing.

The researchers point out that the growth of consumer broadband and cheap data storage will mean the numbers of people willing to swap is growing and will soon outstrip attempts to shut them down.

The growth of instant messaging systems will also contribute to this gradual loss of control.

The rising numbers of recordable CD and DVD drives are also making it much easier for consumers to create their own music compilations and share them with friends which could also stymie anti-piracy work.

Price fix

The paper also pointed out the technical flaws in DRM systems and said that, so far, all of them have been defeated.

In one case the CD protection system designed to stop people playing the disks on a computer was foiled by using a marker pen to cover the outer ring of a disk.

The authors reserve strongest criticism for watermarking systems which put invisible markers in music that stops tracks being passed around and shared.

But the "severe" commercial and social problems inherent in such schemes plus their technical shortcomings mean that they are "doomed to failure", warn the authors.

The paper's researchers emphasise that it represents their opinions rather than those of Microsoft, but their conclusions are likely to make uncomfortable reading for music industry executives.

In essence, say the researchers, file-swapping systems have already won. The only way for music companies to compete is on the same terms by making music easy to get hold of and cheap to buy.

Evidence gathered by critics of the music industry has shown that CD prices have steadily risen over the past few years and may have contributed to the slump in sales as much as the rise of file-swapping systems.

In late September five music companies and three music retailers were fined more than $143million after being found guilty of fixing CD prices too high.

See also:

29 Oct 02 | Entertainment
17 Sep 02 | Entertainment
19 Apr 02 | Entertainment
16 Apr 02 | Entertainment
12 Nov 01 | Science/Nature
16 Apr 02 | Entertainment
04 Sep 01 | Entertainment
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