Midbar, the company that has been selling a lot of anti-copying technology to music publishers, says it is just that: a technology provider. "It's up to the labels which of the CD products they want to implement," says Midbar's v.p. of sales and marketing, Noam Zur. Consumers with complaints need to contact the music companies, not Midbar, he says.
Zur wants to make sure that Midbar's technology is presented in a fair light, something he believes did not happen in a previous NewsForge article that pointed out problems with the Midbar anti-copying scheme, particularly the CDS-100, which prevents the playback of a "protected" CD on a computer CD-ROM drive -- sometimes even causing damage to the computer.
He stressed the fact that the CDS-100 technology was created intentionally to prevent operation on a computer CD-ROM drive. When asked about the issue of fair use, a provision of copyright law which says that citizens are allowed to make copies of copyrighted materials for certain uses, Zur calls that a "label question -- we're here to provide according to market needs, market recommendations, and market requests."
Zur agrees that the labels have not been completely forthcoming in sharing with consumers which CDs will work with what. "In Japan, all protected CDs are labeled. In the U.S., they haven't reached a standard because they haven't agreed on what should be said."
NewsForge has received many emails from users in response to the recent article, many of which contain claims that the felt-tip marker hack does indeed still work on CDs "protected" by Midbar's technology. Zur now admits that no anti-copying technology is 100% unbreakable, even though the company previously claimed that felt tip workarounds had been "completely neutralized," but seems to infer that using a felt tip marker on a CD will damage it. When we mentioned that, to the mind of a consumer desperate enough to try the felt-tip marker workaround, the CD is already corrupted, he replied, "Exactly, in their mind."
There is also some controversy about the CDS-200 technology in place, which allows users to playback the audio on a computer. The files that run are specially created compressed audio files that some say are lower in quality. "[The CDs] include a data track with a Windows player app on it, along with some heavily compressed versions of the tracks in an encrypted MP3-style format," says Jim Peters, the CD campaign coordinator for the http://uk.eurorights.org/issues/cd/docs/natimb.shtml">UK Campaign for Digital Rights. "These are encoded at anything from 80kbps to 128kbps, which is very low quality when compared to the full-quality CD audio you would expect from a genuine CD disc.
"For years everyone has been making CD devices on the basis that people will put genuine CDs in them -- going outside that specification is asking for trouble, and that is what we are still getting even now," Peters says.
Zur disagrees that the quality isn't comparable. "Anything you listen to on the PC is compressed files." Zur says that Midbar CDs are redbook compliant and that there is no difference in audible quality.
"Some labels believe that PCs were not intended as playback machines," says Zur. "We're in the business of helping the music industry protect their copyright. Obviously some people do not like it because some people have copied it; they feel we are taking away some of their freedoms. We only provide the technology."
"The labels are bleeding. There's a lot of information published by the music industry to support that."
Zur says that music lovers should be pleased with the next Midbar release, which is market-ready and waiting for buyers: CDS-300, which will use DRM (digital rights management) technology to allow "secure" streaming downloads.