Imbruglia Imbroglio

Record label attempts at restricting the potential uses of their CDs have hit another bump in the antipiracy road. Music label BMG had announced earlier this year that it would try to find ways to restrict its CDs, in an effort to stem piracy and the trading of MP3 files. But those plans appear to have backfired, so far.

BMG found itself in hot water again last week as European consumers began to return "defective" copies of the company's release of Natalie Imbruglia's White Lilies Island, which had been treated with a restriction technology from Midbar Tech called Cactus Data Shield. BMG has had other problems with Midbar's technology, dating back to early 2000 when the company was forced to recall thousands of discs in Germany.

As reported on Fat Chuck's Corrupt CDs website, the new disc exhibited inconsistent behavior when tested in a variety of CD/DVD environments. For example, playback was unencumbered on an Apple iBook running OS 9, but not using OSX, where the first track was unplayable. Digitally burning to a MiniDisc is said to be out of the question, and the disc reportedly hiccups in a variety of older consumer CD and DVD machines.

BMG's Regine Hoffman tried to downplay the incident: "As we start working with these new technologies, some of these issues can arise when things go into broad circulation. Certain limitations of the protection technology were unforeseeable and only emerged when the CDs were released to the general public."

Hoffman says BMG will replace any problematic discs with unrestricted versions and has set up a special phone number for European customers who wish to exchange their discs. She adds that this latest misstep will not deter the company from encoding future releases, stating, "The testing phase is proceeding in a way that we want to pursue it."

Music shops say they are sensitive to the public's concerns with restricted discs, especially as sales continue to slow. Retailer Virgin has sent out emails to unhappy White Lilies Island purchasers stating that "BMG only informed us on 14 November 2001 that all European stock of Natalie's CD is protected by the Cactus Data Shield. Unfortunately, this stock has not been stickered to notify our customers of this encoding, and needless to say we are very disappointed that this has happened. As retailers, we do support the fight against copyright theft; however, this should never be at the expense of the customer."

But in the final analysis, did the restriction technology prevent the Imbruglia CD from being pirated? One online posting reads: "Needless to say, it's been ripped and copies are already up on file-swap sites, and in fact were there before the album was officially launched."