Universal Music to Copy-Protect CDs

Universal Music Group, the behemoth MegaCorp behind such “artists” as Rob Zombie and Blink-182, has announced that it’s going to start releasing copy-protected “CDs” that only play back in specially enabled CD players and computers. The tech behind this is sufficiently confusing so as to require them to post a tech support site just to get the concept across.

What does this mean to the average consumer? Well, just off the top of my head:

  • You can’t be guaranteed now that the CD you’re buying now will play back on your stereo. You’ll have to start looking for the Philips CD logo, which guarantees compliance with the CD Audio standard, to be certain.
  • Enjoy ripping songs off your CDs and putting them on your Rio to listen to while you jog? Sorry, Charlie, can’t copy these CDs to your hard drive.
  • There’s nothing stopping Universal from changing their copy-protection format down the road, invalidating all the music you bought up to then. Oops.

What amazes me is that the music business is so obtuse, they are refusing to learn from the experience of the last major intellectual property industry to fall for the copy-protection hustle — the software business. Back in the 1980s, the nascent microcomputer software business seemed like it was under a mortal threat — the consumer could copy any software he or she liked and give it to all their friends for free. And why would anyone pay for Lotus 1-2-3 or WordPerfect when they could just snag a free copy?

So the software publishers threw themselves into a frenzy of copy-protection. All sorts of complicated schemes were tried. In the end, though, they all failed because they didn’t stop professional software pirates, who could easily foil any copy-protection scheme by throwing cheap Asian programmers at it, while simultaneously they were a HUGE inconvenience for honest, legitimate users who had to fumble with key disks and hardware dongles and manual word lookups.

In the end the software industry pretty much abandoned copy protection and started trusting that their customers were not petty thieves. Worked out pretty well for everybody. Too bad somebody at Universal hasn’t gotten the memo yet.