Midbar, the Israeli company behind controversial anti-ripping CD technology Cactus Data Shield, has licensed its copyright protection system to Bertelsmann.
Cactus will be used by Bertelsmann's CD production subsidiary, Sonopress. Sonopress produces discs for a variety of companies, not just Bertelsmann's music subsidiary, BMG. One of its customers is Microsoft, which has signed Sonopress to duplicate Xbox titles.
Midbar's technology provoked angry complaints a little while back when it was claimed Cactus could be used to damage listeners' hi-fi equipment, a charge the company itself rejects.
Cactus adds random noise to the music data stored on a CD. If the disc is played back through an ordinary CD player, the hardware's error correction mechanism effectively eliminates the noise, and the listener hears the sound as the producer intended - though we note that some hi-fi purists claim sound fidelity is degraded.
However, attempt to copy the disc using a PC CD drive - a process which treats the disc's contents as data and not music, and so doesn't use the same level of error correction - and all you end up with is a CD full of noise. The technology also blocks consumer CD duplication kit by disrupting a disc's track control data.
Cactus can be implemented at three levels, to restrict discs to CD player usage only; CD and PC usage; and CD and PC playback with ripping enabled. Sonopress has licensed all three.
The company has also licensed rival products from Macrovision and SunnComm, though it's interesting to note that SunnComm's MediaCloQ technology was licensed to fulfil the needs of a single customer, which suggests the adoption of CD protection systems is being driven by the record companies.
Sony, for one, has experimented with the technology in the public arena, shipping over one million Cactus-protected CDs in Europe last month. And Macrovision's SafeAudio has been publicly trialled in the US. Both tests have carried out to determine whether protected CDs are any more likely to be rejected than unprotected discs.
Early trials carried out by Midbar and BMG did indeed see rejection rates rise above the average, as players failed to play protected disc content correctly, but the Israeli company reckons it has solved the problem. Midbar and Macrovision both claim that return rates in the latest trials have so far matched those for unprotected CDs. ®