Philips: Don't Mess with the CD!

The major record labels may put out most of the world's music, but they're doing so on a format first created by Philips and then further developed by Sony: the Compact Disc. In addition to the underlying technology, Philips and Sony established a strict standard for the format, insuring compatibility with all players around the world, which came to be known as the Red Book standard.

According to Philips, recent attempts to add playback restriction technology to new releases is not just a bad idea: Because the Red Book recipe has been altered, the discs no longer qualify as CDs and should be labeled clearly. In a recent Reuters interview, Philips' Gerry Wirtz comments, "We've made sure they would put a very clear warning that you're not buying a compact disc, but something different. We've been warning some labels to begin with, and they've adjusted their behavior."

In an effort to stem music piracy, the major labels have spent the last several months quietly testing and introducing various methods intended to prevent consumers from copying a CD onto a computer hard disk and converting it into an easily traded MP3 audio file. Initial attempts to "protect" CDs have been fraught with problems, and have ended up restricting their use in everything from computers to DVD players and even some regular CD machines.

Wirtz said, "What we've seen so far is troublesome and cumbersome. We worry they don't know what they're doing. It's extremely difficult to retrofit the system with copy protection without losing the ability for all CDs to play on all players."

Wirtz adds that even normal use of a restricted CD could render it unplayable over time as the player's error correction system not only contends with the added restriction distortion, but fights to correct for normally harmless marks and scratches. "We fear some of these so-called copy-protected CDs will play at first, but will eventually show problems and break down."

Philips says it has communicated to the labels that restricted-use discs are not in conformance with the Red Book standard, and may not display the official Compact Disc logo found on all discs, including recordable media. Let the buyer beware.