iPods to support copy-protected CDs?

Record label says its music from copy-protected CDs will play on Apple's iPod, but Apple disputes that notion.

John Borland Staff Writer, CNET News.com
John Borland
covers the intersection of digital entertainment and broadband.
John Borland
3 min read
The EMI Group record label said music from its copy-protected CDs will soon play on Apple Computer's iPod digital music players, but the iPod maker disagrees.

For more than a year, the anti-copying technology loaded on some major label compact discs has been compatible only with Windows-based computers. Those CDs have allowed listeners to move digital files onto the computers, but they have not been able to transfer those songs to iPods.

EMI's upcoming copy-protected CDs, which will use technology from Macrovision, and will at last be compatible with iPods, a change nearly a year in the making, the label said.

"Apple is nearly finished with the technical work necessary to enable consumers to transfer music from content-protected discs to their iPods," the label said in a statement detailing its copy-protection plans. "This is an important step for EMI and Apple, but even more so for music consumers who will soon be able to legitimately port music from protected discs they own to the iPod."

However, Apple disputed EMI's characterization of its plans.

"The information EMI provided regarding iTunes and iPod compatibility with Macrovision's technology is not true and we have no idea why EMI made this statement," Apple said in a statement.

If true, the agreement would mark a substantial step forward for advocates of copy-protecting CDs, even as the ongoing controversy over Sony's actions has cast the practice into controversy.

EMI and Sony BMG each have committed to sharply increasing the number of CDs that are protected with technology that limits the number and type of copies that can be made. Each label has been experimenting with different varieties of this technology for several years, in the United States and overseas.

While CD copy protection as a whole has triggered some criticism from fair-use advocates, it is only the latest release from Sony, using technology from British company First 4 Internet, that has become a mainstream controversy.

That software used a powerful programming tool called a "rootkit" to hide virtually all traces of its presence on a hard drive, using a technique favored by virus writers that instantly triggered suspicion from many computer developers. Worse, that tool wound up exposing computers to a variety of dangerous security risks, some of which have already been exploited by virus writers.

Sony has recalled the 4.7 million CDs that included the First 4 Internet software, and has said it will exchange the 2.1 million albums already sold with the technology installed. The company has also released albums using antipiracy technology from Sunncomm, which has not posed the security risks of the First 4 Internet variants.

EMI has been quick to distinguish its plans from Sony's First 4 Internet discs. It is adopting copy-protection tools from Macrovision, which do not install hidden files on PCs and do not download any software without consumers' permission, the label says.

EMI said its CDs will have usage rules similar to songs purchased from the iTunes music store. Consumers will be allowed to "rip" one full copy-protected version of the album to their computer, from which it can be transferred to MP3 players. Three copies of the full disc can be made on blank CDs, and each individual track can be burned to CD seven times.

The discs will also include additional content, such as artwork, artist bios and videos, the label said.