Restricting CDs, Version 5

The digital audio genie was released two decades ago, before the music industry imagined any need to restrict how music files on a compact disc might be used. The last few years, however, have seen myriad attempts to redesign the digital audio bottle, and then shove the genie back in—with limited success.

The latest in a string of CD restriction technologies from SunnComm was announced last week when the company revealed that its upcoming version of MediaMax, Version 5, will include what it calls "on-the-fly" DRM (digital rights management) encoding.

SunnComm claims that by encoding a new track with a DRM wrapper and placing it on a PC, its proprietary new technology "will enable songs to be moved from a protected MediaMax audio CD to a consumer's computer and further enable the consumer to select a secure format that will be compatible for play on the music player of the consumer's choice."

Including a second set of DRM-restricted audio files alongside the regular tracks on a CD is a technique often used to limit a CD's playback options with a computer. This approach, which SunnComm refers to as a "second session," forces the consumer to use a particular (usually lower-resolution) set of files and media player when inserting the disc into a PC. Consumers quickly learned that holding down the shift key when loading such a disc into a PC often bypasses the restrictions and allows the CD to be played as normal.

According to SunnComm's Peter H. Jacobs, "The MediaMax Version 5 platform creates an environment where digital information can now be encoded with the required DRM security information and instantaneously delivered to the consumer's computer in real time, or 'on-the-fly.' Because this newest version of MediaMax has rendered obsolete the need to place additional 'pre-protected' copies of each music track on the CD, there will be more room for music and other bonus features."

Also eliminated, notes SunnComm, is a problem that has also plagued the SACD/DVD-Audio formats, which can include multiple mixes or resolutions of an album on a single disc. SunnComm says that Version 5 "will eliminate any potential publisher royalty liability they might incur when a second, protected copy of every track is placed on the CD, as was the case for older copy management methodologies."

According to the company's Eric Vandewater, "Our development team has extensively tested and evaluated the 'on-the-fly' encoding technology, and I am pleased to report that Version 5 has performed beyond our expectations in every tested environment to date. We plan to include our new technology on advances and promotional CDs shortly and are preparing to make it available for commercial release worldwide in time for the winter holiday season."