'Copy Proof' CDs cracked with pen

Pen really is mightier as hackers crack Sony’s disc-protection technology.

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By  Marcus Webb Published  May 22, 2002

Technology buffs have cracked music publishing firm Sony Music's elaborate disc copy-protection technology with a decidedly low-tech method: scribbling around the rim of a disk with a felt-tip marker, according to a Reuters report.

Internet newsgroups have been circulating news of the discovery for the past week, and in typical newsgroup style, users have pilloried Sony for deploying `hi-tech' copy protection that can be defeated by paying a visit to a stationery store.

“Does this mean that felt tip pens are now illegal under the DMCA?” enquired one posting on Newsforge.com.

Estimates by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) place the cost of loss revenue due to piracy at over US$14 million a day. Major music labels, including Sony and Universal Music, have begun selling the ‘copy-proof’ discs as a means of tackling the problem.

The new technology aims to prevent consumers from copying, or `burning,' music onto recordable CDs or onto their computer hard drives, which can then be shared with other users over file-sharing Internet services such as Kazaa or Morpheus MusicCity.

Sony's proprietary technology, deployed on many recent releases, works by adding a track to the copy-protected disc that contains bogus data. Because computer hard drives are programmed to read data files first, the computer will continuously try to play the bogus track first. It never gets to play the music tracks located elsewhere on the compact disc. The effect is that the copy-protected disc will play on standard CD players but not on computer CD-ROM drives, some portable devices and even some car stereo systems.

Inking over this bogus track allows the CD to be read, and copied, as ususal on a PC drive.

Sony Music Europe has taken the most aggressive anti-piracy stance in the business. Since last fall, the label has shipped more than 11 million copy-protected discs in Europe, with the largest proportion going to Germany, a market label executives claim is rife with illegal CD-burning.

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