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Japanese label protects its CDs

Security company Midbar Tech is putting its anti-piracy technology onto 1 million Japanese CDs, but only some of the songs on each disc will be protected.

Israeli security company Midbar Tech is releasing 1 million copy-protected CDs in Japan as part of an aggressive push by record labels to curtail digital piracy.

Midbar said Monday that Avex will be the first Japanese label to issue copy-protected CDs using its technology, dubbed Cactus Data Shield. Avex said only some of the tracks on each disc will be protected with Midbar's technology; unprotected songs will play on computers. The discs, scheduled for release this month, will carry a label informing consumers of the technology.

Record labels are frantically seeking to end consumers' rampant digital copying of CDs, a practice unleashed by the MP3 format, the Internet, and file-swapping services such as Morpheus. Currently, CDs can be played on computers and "ripped" into perfect digital copies that can be traded online. Record labels blame dwindling sales on such actions.

To thwart file swappers, Universal Music Group executives have said they want to protect a large proportion of their new releases as early as midyear. The company is experimenting with a soundtrack from the teen drag-racing movie "The Fast and the Furious" using Midbar's Cactus Data Shield.

Now Avex plans to introduce a trio of albums with the same technology. The label plans to release on March 13 a recording by South Korean female artist BoA, titled "Every Heart-Minna No Kimochi." The disc will be followed a week later by a greatest hits album by pop group Do As Infinity, called "Do the Best," and a new album by female vocalist Kumi Koda, called "Affection."

The label is starting down a bumpy road. Steps to introduce anti-piracy technology have run into technical problems and a backlash from consumers and others. Consumer electronics giant Philips Electronics, which owns patents relating to CD technology, has called digital rights management schemes burdensome and raised questions about whether discs that include anti-copying features are entitled to be marketed as CDs.

Already, attempts to distribute copy-protected CDs en masse in the marketplace have run into trouble.

In 2000, BMG Germany tested 130,000 CDs protected by Midbar technology. The project was short-lived, however, as some consumers complained that the discs would not work on their CD players.

Last fall, BMG Finland, a subsidiary of BMG, pulled its first shipment of secure CDs by Irish pop band Westlife after some consumers complained that the company failed to inform them the discs could not play on computers.

"As soon as BMG became aware of playability issues with the copy-protected Westlife CD released in Europe, BMG made sure the subsequent shipment of Westlife's CDs were not copy-protected," said Nathaniel Brown, a spokesman for BMG. "In an effort to better inform consumers, BMG is currently developing a standard for labeling copy-protected CDs in Europe."

Midbar spokeswoman Marjie Hadad said the company has not received "any feedback as far as technical problems are concerned" with Westlife's CDs. She said "sometimes things are pulled from the shelves, and it's got nothing to do with technical things."

Midbar is just one of a handful of companies working with record labels. SunnComm, another digital rights management company, has also struggled with a copy-protected CD released by veteran country music singer Charley Pride. Before the CD was shipped to U.S. stores by Nashville, Tenn.-based MusicCity Records, free copies of the songs appeared on the Internet.

Later, consumers complained that the SunnComm-protected CDs could not play on devices such as certain DVD players. Last month, SunnComm as well as MusicCity Records and its parent company Fahrenheit Entertainment agreed to warn consumers about such incompatibilities after a California resident sued the companies.

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