Internet

Sites spotlight reports of copy-protected CDs

Critics are keeping tabs on CDs rumored to carry anti-copy protections and asking consumers to return discs as defective if they have such technology installed.

A handful of Web sites are popping up to report sightings of copy-protected CDs, and already it's clear that there is far more confusion than solid information.

The sites, located in the United States and United Kingdom, are part of a swelling consumer backlash to record companies' experimentation with CDs that can't be copied or turned into MP3 files.

Although few of these CDs have been definitively identified in the United States, several high-profile releases in Europe have sparked a higher level of public controversy there.

The backers of the sites ask consumers to return CDs as defective if they have copy-protection technology installed. This kind of market action, along with information illuminating the company's actions, is the best way to stop record company plans, they say.

"It seems that the manufacturers have been showing a complete lack of respect for their customers with their actions," writes Jim Peters, of U.K.-based Campaign for Digital Rights, on his Web site. "Many people feel that this can't be allowed to remain as a hidden half-secret any longer. The public must know!"

The British group came to prominence last month after leading a street protest of record shops when news broke that promotional copies of Michael Jackson's newest single would be protected in that country. The British group's site lists albums believed to be blocked against copying in the United Kingdom as well as a wealth of background on the issue.

An American site dubbed "Fat Chuck's" carries a more extensive list of CDs that listeners have reported to be "corrupted" by anti-ripping technology.

This list, which also includes responses from other people, carries few certainties, however. Most of the sightings are speculative, with other people weighing in to dispute original reports. Listed CDs range from Britney Spears' "Britney" to Aerosmith's "Just Push Play."

As experts have noted, the widely varying reports are exacerbated partly because CD ripping remains an unscientific process, varying widely from machine to machine. Computers configured differently have varying rates of success or introduce their own errors, and individuals' lack of technical experience can translate into poorly recorded MP3 files.

Several types of anti-copying technology are being tested around the world. Macrovision, the company that also protects VHS tapes against copying, says its SafeAudio technology has been on the market for several months and has been picked up by Bertelsmann's Sonopress, one of the largest CD manufacturers in the world. Midbar Tech and SunnComm also are working with several record companies.

The technologies work in different ways, but all are intended to keep people from using CDs to create digital copies in MP3 format, which can then be traded through online file-swapping services or other means.

CDs protected with some of the technologies have been unable to play in computers or some CD players, however.

Universal Music Group has said it hopes most of its releases will be protected against copying by mid-2002. Other record labels have been more circumspect, saying only that they are continuing to test the technologies.