The global music industry are in a panic. Despite their legal triumphs over high profile online music services like Napster and Kazaa, the industry have found themselves battling a digital hydra. As soon as one piracy network is closed down, another two spring up in its place.
In desperation they have decided to attack the root of the problem - the copying (both to hard drives and onto recordable CDs) of music CDs.
Their solution is a blanket "copy control" system applied to all the CDs. Several of the large recording companies have already begun distributing "protected" CDs. In South Africa several high profile releases by EMI and BMG now bear the discreet "copy control" labels.
"So what?" you ask, "I'm not a pirate. I buy my music legally. It won't affect me." But you might be wrong. If you ever listen to your CD's on your computer at work, or in the CD player that you bought before the Berlin wall fell, then you may be in for nasty shock.
Many consumers are reporting that their brand new CDs refuse to work in their old players, or worse, that the CDs have damaged their players permanently.
These CDs also completely refuse to play on some computers. A recent Celine Dion album distributed by Sony completely "locks-up" any Apple i-Mac in which it is used. These computers must then be physically stripped down and the CD removed by force before they will function again.
But the truly ridiculous thing is that these CDs are not, in fact, immune to copying. It took the armies of computer geeks and hackers less than a day to figure out a way past EMI and BMG's latest protection technology. This will be the case with any system that the record companies could devise. It's like sticking a R200 note to the floor of a crowded train station with chewing gum, and expecting no one to steal it.
While I support the right of the companies to protect their interests, I think that their approach is entirely wrong-headed. In an attempt to punish the pirates, they are really punishing regular CD buyers - the very people that are keeping them afloat. Thousands of disgusted customers around the world have already vowed to never buy protected CDs again.
The panic felt by the music industry is understandable. They're fast haemorrhaging profits and they are desperately searching for anything that will stop the flow. But they're shooting themselves in the foot with this latest attempt to protect their interests.
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