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It’s yours, but you don’t own it

Anti-copying technology for CDs is too much, too late. Trax hed: dek:

How would you feel if Chevrolet tried to keep you from selling your used Blazer? How about if Simon & Schuster sold you a book that could only be opened if it was chained to your desk, thus keeping you from lending it to a friend? These are the types of strong-arm tactics the record industry has used and keeps using in its efforts to dictate what consumers can and can’t do with products they’ve legitimately paid for.

The newest initiative undertaken by the record industry to protect copyrights is aimed at thwarting unauthorized copying of digital tracks, but it also catches in its net consumers who merely want to listen to CDs on their computers. Last month, Karen DeLise sued Music City Records and SunnComm Inc. for unfair business practices, saying a Charley Pride CD she purchased won’t play on her home computer, or allow her to convert the song tracks into MP3 files.

SunnComm’s technology allows the CD to be played in conventional devices such as stereo systems and portable CD players–but not computer CD drives. Once the CD is placed in a computer CD tray, the user is directed to a Web site where the song tracks can be downloaded in a protected digital format. Those downloaded files can’t be burned to CD or shared with file-sharing programs.

DeLise’s suit is notable because it truly is a matter of principle. She is not seeking any monetary damages, only a more explicit disclosure of what the CD will and won’t do. The suit also asks that people who have purchased the CD be allowed to return it.

The Pride CD does come with a warning of sorts, reading in part, “This audio CD is protected by SunnComm MediaCloq Ver. 1.0. It is designed to play in standard Audio CD players only and is not intended for use in DVD players.”

But regardless of whether the notice on the CD label was sufficient, the implicit message is clear: Despite the fact that you’ve paid for this CD, you don’t truly own it. That line of thinking recalls nothing so much as a brief and disastrous 1993 attempt to quash the practice of selling used CDs. Then, record labels tried to bully record stores by threatening to withhold co-op advertising dollars from any store that bought and sold used CDs.

Naturally, copyright owners have every right to protect their intellectual property. But the practice of encoding CDs is faulty for a number of reasons. First, the horse bolted out of that particular barn ages ago. Billions of unencoded CDs have been sold over the past two decades, so the only items that can be policed would be new releases. Second, record labels stubbornly refuse to recognize that most copied CDs or MP3s amount to free advertising, and that if most consumers like what they hear, they’ll spring for an authorized copy. Third, it’s simply overkill, the equivalent of putting leg irons on all pedestrians to discourage jaywalking. Finally, would anyone care to wager on how long it takes for someone to figure out how to override the anti-copying technology in CDs? They already have, but have been arrested for disclosing their methods.

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