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Copy-crippled CDs launch in UK, baffling Auntie Beeb

Borked by the BPI

Mondeo man has lost his music. And not just Mondeo man - anyone who has bought a new car and wants to play a CD has been borked. That new CD is only half a CD, and in the half where it counts, it doesn't work.

Crippled CDs that won't play on many CD drives, including car players, crept onto the UK market last month. Of course the CDs, which break the Red Book standard, don't allow you to copy the music. And on some car players they play nothing but silence.

But astonishingly, the advice that crackled out from bakelite radios across the home counties this week put the blame on car manufacturers for not keeping up to date.

"Are you sure it's not the places you're buying your CDs from?" an intrepid reporter from the BBC's Home Service You and Yours program asks an unhappy Volkswagon owner who heard nothing but silence in his car when he played the new CDs.

Matt Phillips from the British Phonographic Institute was on hand to fill explain.

"I think you have to look at the changes in the CD format over the last couple of years," says Phillips. "The CD format was first introduced in 1980 … and there were standards to make sure all CDs would play. But things have moved on since then."

"In order to offer the consumers greater choice and a better package, we've seen that record companies are not only introducing enhanced CDs and video content, but it means the format has ever so slightly changed."

"So what the record industry has done is work very, very carefully with the manufacturers of these CDs and this format … and completely borked them."

Actually, he didn't say that really, although this would have been closer to the truth. What he said was -

"So what the record industry has done is work very very carefully with the manufacturers of these CDs and this format to make sure all these CDs play across a number of formats."

Except in cars, of course. Phillips explains, and make sure you're sitting down for this next one.

"The CD player he has got in his car is not actually, initially supposed to play audio CDs."


"Now that might sound a bit strange," says Phillips.

Indeed it does.

"But within the context of copy protection … there have been a number of problems not only with cars but drives. Manufacturers must be aware of specifications that have changed considerably since 1980."

Volkswagen's head of PR Paul Bucket is then put in the hotseat and prodded with hot irons to explain why (oh why) the car company could get it so wrong.

To his credit, Bucket points out the truth: there's an industry standard called the Red Book which the record industry, not the consumer electronic manufacturers, have failed to follow.

"There is an agreed industry standard between players and CD manufactures, and all our players comply."

The segment concludes, in the best BBC tradition - there are two but only ever two sides to a story - with Auntie chiding the two factions to go off and sort out their differences.

As we know there are more two sides to the story.

A third side involves investigating who is telling the truth: and it's clearly Volkswagen. A fourth aspect is the wider context of copy-protection and 'piracy'. As Harvard's Professor Fisher points out in his Promises To Keep discussion here, of the four interested parties involved (consumers, artists, electronics manufacturers and the record industry), three are interested in new compensation models. And consumers and manufacturers are vehemently opposed to copy protection. With borked CDs, people buy less music and manufacturers sell less equipment. And eventually, as Jim Griffin forcefully argues here the industry will realize it can make more money by ceasing to pursue doomed attempts to prevent copying music.

And one of the biggest proponents of free access to arts and culture is the BBC, which is contemplating releasing its archives under a Creative Commons license.

But at least we now know that borked CDs have hit UK. And round one in the publicity wars goes to the BPI. ®

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