Buh-bye, Fair Use Part II - Copy Protected CDs Already Threaten Your Rights

Yesterday, we discussed the Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act, a bill currently before Congress that seeks to introduce copy protection into every medium or device that works with digital media. Fancy a taste of Hollingsi future? Youire living it.

CDs are already being released that include copy protection itechnologyi. Now, I think we can all agree that taking measures to protect an artistis intellectual property is a Good Thing,™ as long as it doesnit tread on a consumeris right to use it at the same time. The problem is in the way theyire doing it: by deliberately causing errors in the disc that will make your computeris CD drive choke. Thatis not to mention several kinds of car stereos, portable CD players, some high-end stereo equipment, game consoles, and even DVD players. Some CDs are just manufactured poorly, and wonit play.

Over at FatChucks.com, thereis an extensive list of those corrupted CDs, and these are just some names from the list thatid be familiar to you: Tori Amos. Creed. Limp Bizkit. Backstreet Boys. Natalie Imbruglia. Linkin Park. Pink Floyd. Oh yeah, and everything released by Universal Musicis dozen or so labels. A recent Celine Dion release causes such a problem on some computersi CD-ROM drives that their computers have crashed and their firmware has been damaged, merely for trying to play it.

There goes your Fair Use right again. I copy CDs (or make mixes) to use in the car, cause the next time some lowlife breaks in and steals my CDs, Iid rather lose $20 worth of CD-Rs than $600 worth of music. I listen to MP3s and CDs on my computer while I work. Many of you have MP3 players that you use to listen to your tunes, or play CDs with your DVD player or gaming console.

The most irritating part of all is that the record companies and stores will not, as a general rule, put a sticker or a note on CDs that contain this icopy protectioni feature. Unless youive already heard about a particular CD having this feature, youire probably going to spend money on something that basically qualifies as defective goods. Also, they do it in batches: for a given CD, some of them may have the protection on and some of them donit. You have no way of knowing until youive bought it and tried it.

Philips and Sony (the owners of the compact disc "Red Book" standard) have made it clear that a non-standards-compliant CD isnit a CD at all, and warned that some methods of copy protection can eventually make the CD completely unplayable after a few years. Although they have cautioned some record companies for misusing the well-known Compact Disc logo, they have yet to break out the big guns.

And this, like the Hollings Bill, is stupid, stupid, stupid. Itis so easy to get around this kind of thing: itis already been done. Once again, all it takes is one person to successfully rip a CD and itill be in the hands of thousands before the dayis out. Regardless of this inevitable fact, itis still not fair. If you purchase something, you expect it to work as advertised. When it doesnit, youire being ripped off.

What can you do about that?

Well, FatChucks.com has already done much the work for you, but hereis a summary:

  • Complain to the Government again - this time, to the your countryis ombudsman, group or department in charge of fair trading and consumer affairs. In the US, this is the Federal Trade Commission. If youire feeling extra-keen, find out about consumer watchdog groups, and mouth off to them. Anyone else would be hauled over the coals for knowingly selling defective goods, and these guys donit deserve to get away with it either.
  • If your CDis not working, donit waste your time trying to get around the copy protection. This just rewards the bad guys - they still get your cash. Instead, take it back to the store and complain long and loud. Demand an exchange or a refund. The more complaints they get about the same CD being defective, and the more returned CDs they canit sell any longer, the more likely they are to notice.
  • Write to music stores, mail-order clubs, department stores and online resellers, and tell them that youire not confident of buying from them until you can be sure youire buying a product that is of merchantable quality. A lot of larger department stores and chains have e-mail addresses and feedback forms you can utilize.
  • Write to the record industry association in your country. In the US, this is the RIAA.
  • Tell your friends. Tell your family. Complain some more.
  • Of course, you can always vote with your hip pocket. Simply donit buy CDs from labels that you know to be practising these underhanded tactics.

The deliberate manufacturing of defective products is not an acceptable substitute for a workable copy protection method. It takes away your right to Fair Use of the music youive purchased, and paves the way for further restrictions on copying media that you legally own. Are you going to just put up with it?

Any other ideas for combatting CD copy protection? You can sound off about these, and yesterdayis discussion on the CBDTPA, in our forums.