Sony Begins Shipping CDs with Built-In Copy-Protection -Tech

Jason Lopez,
Wed Jun 1, 1:08 PM ET

Sony (NYSE: SNE - news) has started shipping compact discs armed with copy-protection technology provided by the UK-based firm First4Internet.

The security feature is not designed to thwart sophisticated duplication strategies used by those who will stop at nothing to thwart copy-protection schemes.

Instead, it is meant to be more of a speed bump on the CD-copying highway to slow down production of the vast numbers of duplicate CDs that are created by average buyers.

Sony already has shipped about 2 million CDs protected by First4Internet's XCP technology, which allows users to make copies of CDs for personal use, including transfers to personal mobile devices.

On the Digital Rights Fence

First4Internet first brought a technology to market designed for record companies seeking to stop leaks of unreleased material. "The product we introduced helped to stem the problem," said First4Internet CEO Mathew Gilliat-Smith. "Now we have a product for the consumer market."

The purpose of XCP -- known as Extended Copy Protection -- is to straddle the ground between the interests of recording companies and the interests of consumers who, under fair-use rules, have rights to a certain amount of copying for personal use. "We developed the technology around the needs of labels," Gilliat-Smith offered.

Copy protection has been a problem for record labels. Some systems have interfered with the sound quality of the discs they were designed to protect from unauthorized copying. Sony maintains that the First4Internet's technology does not harm the fidelity of recordings.

Forward and Backward

The XCP security feature is not intended to be a silver bullet against piracy. In fact, it is not aimed at purveyors of pirated material. "We developed the technology to be as robust as possible," Gilliat-Smith noted. "But it's not aimed at the professional hacker."

He calls the feature a speed bump to turn back the majority of users who would not bother with developing or finding hacks to get around the copy protection.

One of the notable features of XCP is that it can be customized. Recording labels can set the number of copies and the kinds of transfers allowed. The software also is said to be forward and backward compatible with existing optical technology.

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