Campaign for Digital Rights
Buying a new CD? Watch out for inferior imitations Wednesday July 17, 2024

Please note that these CD campaign pages have been frozen as of 14-1-2005, and will not be updated for the time being. However, they will still remain here as an information resource for people still encountering problems with their CDs.

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Corrupt audio discs, aka "Copy-Protected CDs"

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Quick Summary

What's all this about?

Corrupt audio discs (also known as "copy-protected CDs" or "copy-controlled CDs"):

  • look just like normal audio CDs
  • are sold in the record shops alongside normal CDs
  • might be labelled something like: "Will not play on PC/Mac"
  • or might have no label at all

These audio discs have been intentionally corrupted by the record companies to make it harder for people to get them to play correctly on computers. The record companies are doing this to try to cut down on MP3 file-sharing and CD counterfeiting.

However, these corrupt CDs can have problems playing on:

  • car CD players
  • game consoles (PlayStation 2, X-BOX, etc)
  • DVD players
  • portable CD players
  • digital home cinema systems
  • even some 'normal' CD players

On computers, they can:

  • simply refuse to play
  • lock up your machine, forcing a reboot
  • or in extreme cases: refuse to eject, stop your machine from working entirely, and require you to take your machine to a dealer to get it working again (details)

Some forms of CD corruption:

  • reduce the scratch-resistance of the disc, making its average life-span shorter (details)
  • make the quality of the sound degrade quicker as the disc gets older (details)
  • can cause early failure for older CD players (details)

As you can see, the cost and inconvenience for the consumer is huge. But is the "copy-protection" doing its job? Actually, it isn't:

  • Even with the most complex corruptions devised, there are always some computer CD-ROM makes and models that have been found to read the disc perfectly.
  • All a professional counterfeiter would have to do is to try a disc in a number of different PCs until one of them worked.
  • Even if that fails, a "copy-protected" CD could still be copied using normal phono leads from the back of a CD player.
  • Actually, home users have already started to find other ways to get these CDs to play normally in computers -- by covering up the corrupted areas of the disc using sticky labels or lines from a marker pen.

So, what is this so-called "copy-protection" really achieving? "Nothing" is the short answer. But you try telling that to the record companies. They are convinced that they have to do something about MP3s, but they don't know what. This is the best they have come up with, and it is a truly hopeless solution. It is making them look like idiots, and yet they keep on going as if they really want to upset all their customers and lose all their business.

Perhaps they think that they will get away with it, and that people are just going to accept all these problems with their CDs. Certainly, many people are unaware of the issue and probably don't understand why their CDs aren't working, but I think we can do something about that.

IF YOU WANT THIS SITUATION TO CHANGE, NOW IS THE TIME TO STAND UP AND BE COUNTED. You can make a difference, and we have some suggestions for how you can help below.

What can I do?

Here are some suggestions:

  • Web-button: Put one of our web-buttons on your home page to show your support and to help spread the word. See this page. This can have a huge effect, and it requires almost no effort on your part!
  • Let people know: Make sure family members understand what this is all about. Mention it to your colleagues at work or college. Tell anyone you know who you think might be affected. You might find it useful to print out our flyer, based on this page, in one of these formats: PDF-A4, PDF-2xA5 or PS-A4.
  • Take corrupt CDs back: Make sure that you take back any corrupt CDs that you have bought, explain the problem to the assistant, and insist on a refund. Make sure they know why you are bringing it back! The shops are only going to understand the problem if people keep telling them about it. Also, your CD will not show up on the record shop's statistics as a 'problem return' unless you actually return it! Vote with your discs!
  • Put pressure on online retailers to make sure that they clearly indicate which CDs are corrupt. We have a page of retailer policies here. If your favourite retailer has not responded to us, ask them why not! We have heard recently (Mar-2003) that the record industry is putting pressure on retailers to NOT give warnings to consumers; the only remedy to this is to put pressure in the opposite direction. Retailers are caught in the cross-fire between consumer and record company interests, but nevertheless it is clearly their job to provide proper information to the consumer, no matter what the record industry thinks.
  • Contact Computing Which?: In the UK, Computing Which? have published a report on the legal aspects and contradictions in the UK consumer's use of music, and are campaigning for home copying for personal use to be recognised and permitted by UK law. See the end of the report for details of how to show your support for their campaign.
  • Contact Trading Standards: In the UK, Trading Standards are supposed to protect the consumer from problems like this, but we have had very little success in persuading them that this is something they should do something about, despite several attempts and plenty of evidence. The Office of Fair Trading was similarly unhelpful. However, there may still be some possibility for movement here -- if enough people make a genuine complaint, or if someone chooses to persuasively take the issue up the chain to ever higher-ups, maybe something can be made to happen. See HERE for local Trading Standards Office contact details. Amongst other complaints, we believe that corrupt audio discs cannot legally be described as "CDs" -- this has been pointed out by Philips and Apple amongst others.
  • Contact BBC Watchdog: If you have repeatable problems with a corrupt CD in the UK, consider contacting BBC Watchdog. They ran a feature on this some time ago, and are interested in more information that they could put into a new feature. The more people who complain to Watchdog, the more likely they are to give it time in a forthcoming programme. You can send your comments to them here.
  • Join FatChuck's campaign: In the States, Chuck Heffner is putting together several Class Action Lawsuits against the record companies. People in the US should take a look at his site here. He also has several other great ideas for ways that US residents can make a difference. Check out his site for the latest information.
  • Contact Consumer Organizations: In general, make sure that any consumer organisations in your country know about this issue. If enough people mention it, they will know there is consumer interest, and they will put time into doing something about it.
  • Sue them yourself! If you are feeling wealthy, consider taking personal legal action against Sony (or Midbar, or whoever) for damages due to the problems caused by corrupt CDs. iMac users especially should be due some compensation for the repair bills they have incurred in having inaccurately-labelled Sony audio discs removed from their machines.
  • Talk to your Library: Go and talk to your local CD lending library. Ask if they know about the problem, and whether they have asked their suppliers to only send them true standards-conforming audio CDs in future. You might need to print out some articles, particularly the Philips one, to back up what you are saying.
  • Distribute leaflets: Hand out leaflets in the street, or leave them places where interested people might find them. We have several leaflet designs on our research pages (including one that is a version of this page), and we have lots of support information for leafletters in our leafletting volunteers section.
  • Join the UKCDR: Read up on the DMCA, EUCD and CBDTPA, join our mailing list, and help us stop any further nonsense along the lines of corrupt audio CDs before it reaches the lives of everyday people.

Thanks for your support.

-- The UK Campaign for Digital Rights' CD Task Force

(If you arrived on the site at this page, you can now use the navigation links at the top of the page to visit our other CD pages, including lists of known corrupt CDs, examples of warning labels used on CD releases, our research pages, and so on, or you can use the side-links to see other issues that the Campaign for Digital Rights is concerned with.)

Additional detail for some of the above points

Extreme problems with computers:

The Celine Dion CD released in the UK by Sony has caused major problems for Macs. We have heard of many reported problems with the new flat-screen iMacs, in which dealers had received machines to repair, only to find a Celine Dion CD inside and no other problems. With a Celine Dion CD inside, these Macs boot up to a grey screen, and will not respond, nor eject the CD. We have also heard about similar problems with a recent PowerMac G4 model. Apple have published a technical note on this issue. Note that Sony are still releasing new CDs in this format, so the Celine Dion CD is unlikely to be the end of the story.

Reduction in scratch-resistance with corrupted discs:

Some of the corrupt or modified CD formats achieve their aim of failing to play on computer CD-ROM drives by overloading the error-correction on the disc. Normally, the error-correction codes help a CD player to deal with scratches, fingerprints or any other problems on the CD's surface. The CD player can fill in over the problems by error-correcting, so that you don't hear the problem (unlike on a vinyl record player where you would hear pops or crackle). However, if the error-correction codes have already been overloaded to "copy-protect" the disc, then there is nothing left to deal with problems if the CD gets scratched at that point. This means that over a CD's life, as it suffers wear and tear, it is likely to stop playing correctly much sooner if it has been "copy-protected" in this way, and so it will have a shorter life-span.

Philips have backed up this technical point completely in their statements in this article

Quality degradation of corrupt discs:

CD players will normally do everything that they can to avoid 'dropping out' or leaving silent gaps in the playback. If some data is missing, they will try to 'fill in the gaps' as best they can. This means that something can go badly wrong with your CD, and all you get is a slight lowering of quality.

However, with CDs that have had their error-correction corrupted in order to "copy-protect" them, the CD player might be 'filling in the gaps' almost all of the time, and even if it isn't, as soon as there are a few scratches, it might be forced to. This means that your CDs will be playing at lower quality levels earlier in their lives compared to true audio CDs made according to the standard.

Early failure of older CD players:

We have had a few reports of older CD players that have 'died' whilst trying to play a corrupt CD. This seems to be too much of a coincidence. In discussion with someone experienced in CD player repairs, we came to the conclusion that the extra strain that a corrupt CD puts on a CD player can cause some machines that are getting old to 'die before their time'. In other words, if your machine is getting a bit long in the tooth, a corrupt CD might just finish it off, even though you might get a few more years out of it otherwise.

Update Jun-2003: The problems are not limited to old CD players, it seems. Temporary and permanent failures have been reported with several types of drives, including a PS2 console, and a DVD-ROM drive which completely died as a result of playing "Tubular Bells 2003".