Macrovision CDS-300 version 7 beta

A CD lock-in tech that only annoys P2P traders?


Licensed to ill

Whether you run the disc automatically or double-click, you're presented with a software-style licence-acceptance screen. Click install and the software sticks an appropriate Windows Media DRM licence on your machine. It also installs - as you'll see if you read the Ts&Cs blurb all the way through - a "small program" to protect copyright material. This is the second strand to Macrovision's anti-duplication bow, what it calls 'active protection'.

CDS 300 Version 7 UI

Macrovision is adamant that the app isn't spyware - it "does not and cannot collect, retain, or transmit any information whatsoever about your computer or people who use it", the company states emphatically - but it does act to interfere with ripping software, and it's on that basis that the company claims 99 per cent effectiveness against attempts to rip the disc.

Morally reprehensible? Not entirely. You can easily elect not to install the software, but then you won't get to hear the music on your PC. Copying the files to your hard drive and attempting to play them prompts WMP to dial up a licence acquisition page.

Choosing not to install the licence and anti-rip code simply results in the disc being ejected. Agreeing to the installation will allow you to play the songs in either the Macrovision UI or through WMP itself. You'll also be allowed to copy the DRM'd songs to your hard drive and - label permitting - burn them to CD.

Like CloneCD and other apps of its ilk, Macrovision's home-brewed CD burning code - which again must be installed before proceeding - requires a CD-R drive that supports 'raw' mode. It needs this in order to enable it to implement session protection on the duplicate, the idea being that you'll be able to play the disc in your car or on your hi-fi, but not in someone else's PC. The burned copy lacks the content of the copy-protected disc's Yellow Book data session(s), but those sessions are still present in order to hide the Red Book content.

Having accepted the licence you can listen to the songs in WMP, RealOne or any other Windows Media DRM-compatible app. We tried iTunes' WMA-to-AAC conversion, but it proved sufficiently DRM-savvy to reject the file.

iTunes can't see the session-protected CD Audio files any better than WMP or RealPlayer can. Or rather, iTunes for Windows can't. The music jukebox's Mac OS X version, on the other hand, like the Mac operating system itself, has no problem accessing the CD Audio session alongside the appropriate Yellow Book session, and producing some very nice quality AAC rips.

CDS-300 version 7 incorporates a Mac OS player - for both 9 and X - but since the OS mounts both the CD Audio and Mac sessions as separate volumes on the desktop, so what? Taking a look within the Mac data session reveals the player and a /Player directory within which is a file containing the data you need for your ripped songs' ID3 tags. There's also a hefty 32.9MB .cds file that contains the encoded audio data the player uses.

That Mac OS X exposes the CD Audio session also makes it possible - as we did - to use Roxio's Toast to copy said session onto a CD-R which could then be played and ripped on the Windows XP machine. Or uploaded to a P2P network.

CDS 300 Version 7 'hidden' audio... in iTunes

Running Macrovision's own Mac OS player provides basic playback facilities, but without the burning option offered on Windows - or the licence and anti-rip driver installation. This may come in a future version of CDS-300 - it's certainly on Macrovision's feature roadmap.

Beta

CDS-300 version 7 is scheduled to be released next month. It's still in beta, so Macrovision may well have the Mac OS X issue sorted out by then, if it can figure out how to hide the CD Audio session from the OS.

If it doesn't, it may well get Apple's co-operation to tweak the OS in a future update. Macrovision is confident that it will support Apple's FairPlay DRM scheme in a Q4 software update, suggesting that it has reached, or is about to reach, an accord with the Mac maker. If it licenses FairPlay it may well persuade Apple to neuter OS X's CD Audio mounting.

That leaves Linux. Alas we don't currently have a machine running the open source OS machine in the office, but we suspect it probably treats multiple disc sessions as multiple volumes as OS X does.

Speaking of audio duplication, we tried the copy-protected CD Macrovision sent in a number of different players, from home hi-fis and DVD players to the office ghetto blaster and it played without hitch. Our tests of necessity could not be extensive, but Macrovision claims its own trials show a high level of device compatibility. But it will still suck if your particular machine is one of the ones that don't like session protection.

In adopting session protection rather than the older, 'passive protection' mode, Macrovision is trading more rigid protection for better compatibility. The company accepts that illicit duplication is never going to go away, and its copy protection scheme is essentially about attempting to minimise piracy rather than eradicate it. CDS-300 version 7 will certainly not stop analog duplication from the CD Audio. Nor, so far as we can tell, will it stop folk sharing the original disc and simply installing the licence on multiple PCs.

Macrovision presumably feels that sufficiently few folk will do so, or can be bothered to jump through hoops to rip the songs just for the sake of posting them on a P2P network. Instead, it believes, they'll settle for the easier approach, particularly since it allows them to do pretty much everything else they'd do with an un-protected disc.

Hence the burning code, and its upcoming RealTime DRM Encoding technology, which will create FairPlay-protected AACs, ATRAC 3 or WMA files from the Red Book source depending on whether you're running iTunes, Sony's SonicStage or WMP, on your PC or Mac. Punters get the format they prefer and (potentially) the right to make back-up copies - just not scope to post the files on Kazaa or one of its ilk.


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