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CD lock loosened for freer copying

Macrovision updates its copy-protection technology for music CDs to allow a specified number of burns and transfers, following the path set by download services such as iTunes.

Macrovision released a new generation of its antipiracy technology on Thursday that it hopes will make copy-protected music CDs more attractive to consumers and record labels.

The update attempts to simulate most of what people are doing with CDs on their computers. Content owners such as record labels would be able to set the "usage rules" on the Microsoft Windows Media files included on a Macrovision-protected CD, allowing a specified numbers of CD burns and transfers to portable devices, for example.

Macrovision hopes that its new technology, called CDS-300, will make CD copy protection more palatable to consumers who have grown used to the restrictions on music purchased from online song stores.

"Before, you had the 'second session' that was bolted to the disc," said Adam Sexton, Macrovision's vice president of marketing. "We're pleased we can now deliver the same functions and can go 'mano a mano' with the online services."

The copy-protection company's previous software blocked people from making copies of CDs by rendering the music files invisible to most computers. However, the protected CDs also held additional versions of the songs in the Microsoft Windows Media format, which could be played on PCs. This separate set of music files, called a "second session," could not be transferred off the CD or put on portable devices, however.

That restriction stood in poor contrast to songs purchased from Apple Computer's iTunes, Napster or other services, which can be burned to a CD, used on several computers, or transferred to a portable device. They also include some anticopying restrictions, however.

Loosening the restrictions on copy-protected CDs may represent a step forward for digital rights management, but the company's technology is likely to remain controversial with consumers.

Macrovision's software and rival products from companies, such as SunnComm Technologies, are intended to curb unregulated CD copying and the practice of "ripping" unprotected MP3s, which can be distributed through file-swapping services or by other digital means.

Record labels are eager to bring both activities under control. But they're also leery of a backlash from consumers, who are used to copying and ripping CDs and who might view the new CD protections as an unfair constraint. Several lawsuits have already been filed in the United States and the United Kingdom over CD copy-protection techniques.

To date, CD copy protection has not been widely distributed in the United States. Record labels there are looking for even greater protections, such as preventing burned CDs from being copied additional times, according to Sexton.

The new Macrovision technology is being tested in production plants in Europe, and it is not likely to find its way to a commercial release for at least another quarter. It will be available for record labels to use around the world.