CD “protection” in Europe and CD prices in Canada

Posted by Pierre Igot in: iTunes, Music, Technology
September 4th, 2003 • 7:12 pm

The latest development in the on-going CD protection saga is a ruling by a French court regarding the CD protection used by EMI France on its recent CD releases (including Jean-Louis Murat’s latest double album Lilith, which I got from yesterday).

The ruling did establish that the CD in question was defective, that the CD protection was preventing the owner from playing the CD in her car audio system — which is a perfectly legitimate use and has nothing illegal about it — and that the owner should get a refund. The reasoning is that such CDs should come with clear warnings that they might not be playable with certain devices.

The problem is that the judge didn’t rule that copy protection systems were illegal — which allows the president of EMI Music France to utter the usual hypocritical line about being happy that “the justice system is siding with the artists”. (It’s siding with the record companies, not the artists.)

The judge didn’t consider the fact, in other words, that the consumer has no choice but to purchase a defective product if he wants to own a given CD by a particular artist that is released by this record label. The owner above will get a refund, but what if she still wants the music?

This attitude effectively treats CDs as interchangeable products: “Oh, this CD won’t play in your car system? Never mind, here’s a refund. Go buy another one.” Yes, but another one by whom? Not the same artist. Not the same title. If that’s what the owner wants, she’s out of luck. And this is not acceptable.

In other words, the justice system and record labels are effectively encouraging their consumers to obtain the music they want through “illegal” means such as file sharing. It is the only solution.

The reality, in fact, is more nuanced. The fact is that EMI’s CD protection scheme is obviously highly ineffective. For it to work properly and prevent you from making copies of the CD, you need to have a couple of “AutoPlay” options activated on your computer. In Mac OS X, for example, you need to have the option “When you insert a music CD” in System Preferences set to “Open iTunes”. If you put “Ignore” instead, then the CD will simply mount on your desktop as two volumes, one of which is the full-fledged audio CD, which you can then copy with Toast or another CD-burning tool as a regular audio CD with no protection.

Still, the reality is that this CD protection scheme forces you to make additional, unprotected copies of the “protected” CD in order to be able to play the in devices with which the copy protected CD doesn’t agree. Blank CDs are cheap, but it’s still a pain.

I just don’t see these “CD copy protection” schemes garnering anything but ridicule and more frustration for music lovers. The CD format was never designed to be protected — and no amount of tinkering with the format will change that.

Meanwhile, Universal Music Canada has decided to lower its regular price for CDs, in an attempt to make them more attractive for file sharing afficionados.

Of course, such a move is a blatant confirmation of what everybody has been saying, i.e. that CDs are overpriced and that the profit margins are mostly used to fatten up the pockets of record company executives.

Still, CDs in Canada were already quite cheap compared to prices in Europe — so I am not complaining, especially since this price drop will make them even more attractive (hopefully without hurting the artists’ bottom-line).

The iTunes Music Store is not yet available in Canada, and I will probably only use it for stuff that is simply not available on CD. Whenever a CD is available, that’s the format I want. Give me true CD quality over musical downloads any day. I’m not about to repurchase my entire collection of CDs in AAC just to fatten up Apple’s bottom-line!

2 Responses to “CD “protection” in Europe and CD prices in Canada”

  1. Noodleroni says:

    Repurchase your CD collection as AAC? Dude, you don’t have to :-) Just rip them with iTunes and you have unprotected AAC music files.

  2. Pierre Igot says:

    That was precisely my point :). The iTunes Music Store is only interesting to me in so far as it gives me access to music that is not available on CD anywhere. By most estimations, only 20 percent of all the music ever recorded is actually in print. The rest is locked somewhere in vaults. It’s up to the record companies and online stores like Apple’s to change that. Until then, the iTunes Music Store won’t be getting much money from me… (if it ever becomes available in Canada, that is!).

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