Campaigners will take to the streets of Britain this Saturday (6 October) in a bid to raise public awareness of the music industry's attempts to prevent listeners from copying CDs or playing discs on PCs.
The UK's Campaign for Digital Rights, a loose, Web-based affiliation of computer users and music fans, is calling on anyone concerned about the implementation of the European Union Copyright Directive (EUCD) - the EU equivalent of the US' controversial Digital Millennium Copyright Act - and the music industry's use of anti-rip technologies like Macrovision's SafeAudio and Midbar's Cactus to spread the word outside the nation's record stores.
So far, stores in London, Birmingham, Leeds, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Rugby, Brighton and Cambridge have been targeted.
The CFDR claims that copy-protected CDs are substandard and the music industry's attempts to introduce such discs by stealth should be resisted. The group believes that anti-rip CDs are of lower audio quality and are not as durable as unprotected discs.
The first point is certainly correct, though it's questionable whether an average pair of ears can tell the difference. Technologies like SafeAudio and Cactus add random noise to the audio data when the CD is mastered. That's certainly a reduction of audio fidelity. When the CD is played back on a standard hi-fi, the player's error correction system eradicates the noise. However, a PC CD drive, which simply transfers the raw data, interprets the noise as corrupt data and declares the disc unreadable.
The durability issue centres on the protected disc's lower resistance to scratches. Since a protected disc is already full of errors - the anti-rip system - the cumulative effect of scratches on the disc's surface renders the disc less likely to work as its gets older.
Again, broadly that's correct, but since it takes a lot of damage or muck to render a CD unplayable, we reckon the effect of the deliberately added noise on the overall lifespan of a protected CD is minimal. And perhaps some disc owners should learn to look after their CDs with a little more care than they do.
That said, we do believe that the music industry should come clean about its anti-rip trials and clearly state on any protected disc that it contains such technology. If the industry is sure of its claims that anti-rip systems have negligible effect on users' enjoyment of music, it should have the confidence to be rather more open about the matter than it has to date.
The CFDR is hoping the CD issue will also help it raise awareness of the EUCD and the plight of Russian programmer Dimitri Skylarov, the first coder to fall foul of the DMCA in the US. Skylarov was arrested for cracking the encryption on Adobe's eBook system in order to produce a program that would read an eBook's contents aloud for blind users.
The group fears that if the EUCD is enacted in the UK, it will lead to many such cases over here. ®
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