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BMG puts kibosh on copying promo CDs

The label will start packaging this month free samples of new albums with software that prevents songs from being copied onto computers.

BMG Entertainment, the major record company owned by German media giant Bertelsmann, said it will begin this month to protect promotional releases of its CDs against copying.

That means free samples of new albums sent to U.S. radio stations, retailers and the press will come packaged with software that prevents songs from being copied onto computer hard drives. BMG will begin the trials with the April promo releases from artists Cee-Lo and Donnel Jones.

Recipients of free CD promos have been at the top of a list of suspects behind leaks of unreleased tracks onto the Internet. In June 2000, the self-titled single off Madonna's then-unreleased album "Music" was found online, causing an outcry by the pop star and her label, AOL Time Warner's Warner Music Group. Other artists, including Paul McCartney, U2, Metallica and Van Halen, have seen unreleased tracks leaked onto the Internet after radio stations received advance copies.

The move does not signal a companywide decision to place anti-copying software in CDs sold to consumers, according to BMG spokesman Nathaniel Brown. He stressed that the current measure is just a trial to gather feedback on the technology.

"It's premature to commit to implementation in the marketplace on commercial CDs," Brown said.

BMG declined to disclose which technology it plans to put in the promos, saying only that it would use a variety of technologies on a "nonexclusive basis."

The initiative is the latest attempt among record labels to combat the raft of online file-swapping services such as Kazaa and LimeWire. These services connect computer hard drives over the Internet and allow people to swap audio files for free. The recording industry has countered with lawsuits against file-share veteran Napster and later services such as Morpheus.

Record companies also have sought to limit unauthorized song trades by placing copy protection into CDs. Vivendi Universal's Universal Music Group has been especially vocal about copy protection; along with BMG, it has released some titles to U.S. consumers that include the software. Warner Music has issued copy-protected CDs in France and Germany and plans to release one title in Japan.

Sony Music Entertainment has also begun shipping copy-protected discs in Europe. Its Epic/Sony label recently released a version of Celine Dion's "A New Day has Come," one of some 70 albums to include such technology, according to the company.

Still, the record companies agree there is a market for online music. BMG parent Bertelsmann has invested heavily in Napster in hopes of reviving the once-popular service as a subscription offering. The major labels are also promoting their own paid services, MusicNet and Pressplay, in an effort to turn Web surfers from unauthorized file-trading sites to legal alternatives.

"Intellectual property is at risk from rampant bootlegging, file sharing and CD burning, and music is only the first medium to fall victim at the costs of royalties to artists, revenues to labels, and jobs to the industry," Pete Jones, CEO of BMG distribution and associated labels, said in a statement.