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Corrupt audio discs, aka "Copy-Protected CDs"

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Translation of complaint re corrupt disc releases from EMI Germany

A contact has translated this exchange between a consumer and EMI Germany for our benefit as an example of the current debate and strength of feeling there. This exchange is regarding the so-called "copy control" technology used on the latest Herbert Grönemeyer album released by EMI.

The situation in Germany is currently (Apr-2003) much more severe than it is in the UK, and perhaps we can take this as a warning of what could happen here as well if we allow the record companies to lead us down the same route to 100% corrupt disc releases.

The comments from EMI Germany are also interesting. If we are to believe them, then we should see the collapse of the entire Germany media industry (including TV and radio!) within a year or so. If that happens, I look forward to the explosion of creativity as the independents move to fill the gaping hole left behind. However, I suspect that the current industry leaders will discover that there is still money to be made from the German market, despite their dire predictions.

Our contact has also provided some notes of his own, reflecting the current European situation, which I have edited and added below the text, along with a commentary of my own and a brief conclusion:


Dear Mr. Grönemeyer,

You have always been innovative. And your latest CD even has "Copy Control Technology with largest possible compatibility"... F$@# Y&%!!! Nothing worked! My Sony DVP-S735D is obviously too modern.

Are you sure, that the development is moving the right way? In the old days, no one complained about me having taped your 4630 album from a friend of mine. But when we reach the point, that I have to think about compatibility if I wish to buy a CD or piece of hardware, I'm losing my good feeling.

The most probable reason for home burning is obviously lack of money. And these people are the ones who would not listen to your latest album, because they don't have the money to spend it for. On the other hand, record labels are making contracts of 2-digit million Euro with mediocre artists...

On the other hand, there are people without large technological knowledge who simply want to buy a CD and listen to it. I belong to them. Additionally, I go for good quality, ease of operation and reliability. I bought your CD yesterday and now I'm not sure if I will get my money back (because nothing was given to me in return).

At least, the whole situation makes me extremely nervous and my interest and joy has been dropped below zero level. Fact: 13 Euro for a "coaster". %$#&^%&$#!!!


Dear Mr. Marienfeld,

Herbert Grönemeyer "Mensch" contains Copy Control Technology. Before I tackle your problem, let me tell you why we have to use this CCT, despite the fact we would like to do something else in our time.

Recently, CD sales have been dropped radically. If we compare last quarter (April to June 2002), with the first one, revenues have been decreased with 21%. If we compare 2002 with 2000, a total loss of 40% was "achieved". Under these circumstances, we cannot continue to operate, as if nothing ever happened. We had to restructure record companies, one third of all personnel has already been fired. Some firms have already been closed, fused with others or got huge payment problems. A larger number of artists could not be managed [1]. In last nine months, over 40 record stores have been closed. Next, the first music magazines had to quit. When this development continues this way, radio and TV cannot continue either. We are already wondering if we are actually capable to manage a national production (single, album) for a particular artist. [2]

The main cause for this development, according to representative long-term research of Germany's biggest market research institute, is the massive digital reproduction of CDs, the massive misuse of the possibility to clone CDs by means of a PC-based CD-R(W) drive [3]. In 2001, 182 million CD-Rs were written for audio purposes, this will be 220 million in 2002, which is more than the number of CD albums sold. At the end of 2002, only 47% of all CDs is correctly paid for; the majority of 53% are recordables, from which the music creators and distributors do not see a penny [4]. Compare this with 1998, when 89% of all CDs was correctly paid for.

This massive misuse of CD writing can only be opposed with CCT. That's also the reason why many music companies have to release CDs with CCT. There is no alternative to stop this misuse [5].

The CCT we're now using has been and will be thoroughly tested. More than 99% of all CD players handle it without problems. [6]

And now to your problem. We will forward your player's properties to the CCT manufacturer. We will offer you to change your CD to another from our catalogue [7]. Grönemeyer's album (as is the case for all copyprotected CDs) is only available in the version with CCT [8]. Otherwise, an unprotected copy would be widespread in a very short time, and our CCT measures would be useless [9].

I would like to ensure you, that we are intensively cooperating with our CCT manufacturer, not only to make our CCT more efficient, but also to minimize disadvantages for regular music lovers.

Note [1]: As our contact points out, the Germany record industry, like the UK one, seems to be suicidally focussed on promoting disposable 'pop idol' acts with minimal depth or staying power. If they no longer have the ability to develop real artists, then perhaps they should make way for some new form of music industry that can.

Note [2]: How much of the decline in the market has been due to bad feeling due to the introduction of corrupt disc formats? If you reduce the value of the product but keep the price the same, you should expect a drop in sales. This effect would be exaggerated by the fact that people dislike being treated like criminals.

Note [3]: What about also looking at large-scale commercial piracy, rather than just personal copying? Also, what makes them think that every CD copy is a sale lost? If all CD copying (or indeed tape copying) was stopped as if by magic, their sales would not suddenly shoot up by some vast amount.

Note [4]: Not true. In many European countries there exist levies on blank discs for the benefit of the music industry, with even a proposed 13 Euro tax on sales of PCs coming soon to Germany. This is despite the fact that both blank discs and PCs have significant uses other than for illegally copying music!

Note [5]: Not true. Corrupt discs just make the problem worse. They don't effectively stop copying, and they aggravate and infuriate customers. Unhappy customers are unlikely to do anything to benefit the record industry if they can help it. It may be too late now, but happy customers is what the industry really needs, and realistic prices, because a happy customer will be more than willing to pay. As our contact points out: "There are two reasons for me not to buy CDs: 1. too expensive; 2. copy-control technology."

Note [6]: 99% of CD players? Are you sure? What about portables, car players, games consoles, DVD players, audiophile players, and so on, and so on. Problems have been found with all of them. This in addition to the potential long-term reliability problems from degrading the CD's error-correction mechanism through making these severe modifications to the format.

Note [7]: As our contact points out: "All your CDs are copy-protected this way! I have no other choice than to get my money back."

Note [8]: Not true. Non-corrupt discs are available in some regions that have not yet implemented 100% corrupt releases, like the UK or Australia. Also, by creating a scarcity of non-corrupt discs, the record companies are actually giving commercial pirates an advantage in the marketplace. A commerical pirate can make a CD that is more compatible than the real thing -- i.e. one that works in more CD players!

Note [9]: Your measures are already useless. A search on the c't magazine online CD database shows that roughly 50% of PC users can copy any given copy-controlled CD, despite the corruption. When will the record industry end this stupidity?

Our contact also added a number of additional comments to those above, which I will cover here. Note that in several European countries, personal copying is legal. You can legally make a compilation from your own CDs, and legally make an MP3 to put on your portable MP3 player. In Canada you can even take a copy of a friend's CD, although your friend can't make a copy for you.

In the UK it appears that all copying is illegal, despite that fact that everyone does it, and that the record shops have been selling us blank tapes for all these years. What do they really think we have been doing with all those tapes? It seems that in the UK the law would rather maintain the illusion that copying things is not necessary and should be forbidden, rather than be more realistic. Creating a more realistic law on copying would actually be a fairly complex task, and I can see why they might wish to avoid tackling this, despite the severe contradictions between the current law and everyday practice.

Also note that corrupt audio discs actually make copying a necessity, illegal or not. I have heard from many people who first learnt about copying CDs or downloading MP3s through frustration with their attempts to get their corrupt audio discs to play! For instance, if you want to play your purchased CD in a player which is incompatible with corrupt discs, then you need to make a CD-R copy first, at your own trouble and expense.

Equating CD-R (blank disc) sales with copied music is completely erroneous, as they have so many other uses. CD-Rs are frequently used for computer backups or for temporary transfer of large files, or for distributing shareware or freeware, or by independent musicians for their own releases, or -- as our contact points out -- "for pornography". There are many uses for a high-capacity data storage medium like CD-Rs beyond music storage. So, CD-R sales cannot be related simply to the amount of music being copied. Also, as our contact points out, if the record industry is so sure about how many CD-Rs are used for storing illegally copied music (as opposed to legally copied music, or other PC data), then they are surely guilty of invasion of privacy!


Given that everyday people now appear to be holding the record companies to ransom, I suggest that the record companies attempt negotiation rather than resorting to outright warfare. Everyday people have a weapon just as potent as anything the record companies can come up with. The only hope the record industry has is that people will choose not to use it, and will choose to support the record industry instead. Encouraging people to be generous cannot generally be achieved by forcing degraded products on them and calling them thieving criminals.

If we are going to see a well-balanced outcome here, in which everyone benefits, it will be achieved through consensus, not through use of oppressive force. The sooner the record companies get that through their skulls the sooner we will get out of this mess, although it may already be too late, and the damage may already have been done. However, if the resolution of this problem really means the complete collapse of the current record industry (as EMI Germany predicts) and the creation of a new kind of music industry in its place, then so be it.

Jim Peters, 4-Apr-2003