CD Dark Ages

It's a brave new music world.

Universal Music Group has officially revealed that it is the first major label to include restriction technology as a matter of standard policy with its CD releases intended for the US market. The company says it also plans to embed restriction technology on all of its releases by Spring of 2002. A variety of labels, including Universal, have been testing the restricted CD waters in Europe and with stealth releases in the US, with mixed results.

The statement comes on the heels of Universal's announcement that, in conjunction with Sony, it had finally launched its Pressplay Internet-based music subscription service in the US on December 19. Universal says that Pressplay will reach limited audiences initially, with plans to widen the availability of its service after the New Year.

Universal says the first restricted CD to be released will be More Fast & Furious, a follow-up to the soundtrack to The Fast & The Furious movie. The label is using Cactus Data Shield technology from Midbar along with a proprietary music player called EverAd to play additional embedded compressed digital tracks that are also restricted and incompatible with other media players.

One side effect of this approach is that, according to Universal, the CD will not be playable on "a small number" of CD players, as well as DVD players, game consoles, and computers using the Mac, Linux, or older Windows operating systems.

Although restricted CDs have begun to raise the ire of NARM, a trade group representing music retailers, in a letter to its sellers, Universal's Jim Weatherson says, "Our goal is to closely partner with the retail community in combating the illegal copying of compact discs. We share in your concerns and in response are pleased to be the first company to launch a campaign to confront this explosive and damaging trend."

Universal says that, unlike previous restricted CD releases, these discs will have a warning sticker, and adds that it is encouraging retailers to offer exchanges for disgruntled customers. Other labels testing restricted CDs include BMG and Sony, neither of whom have yet announced plans for releasing limited-use discs in the US.