Music in a Cage

To date, record label attempts at adding copy-control systems to CDs to restrict their use have been less than totally succesful. We've had Sony discs that get stuck in computers, discs that don't reliably play in all CD players, trademark violations, and CDs that generate lawsuits and consumer frustration from not being able to create a "fair-use" personal copy of a disc to throw in the car.

But this dismal track record hasn't stopped the labels from looking for new ways to restrict the use of their products. SunnComm, which bears the dubious distinction of developing one of the first restriction technologies used on a CD, announced last week the market launch of its newest proprietary copy-control system: MediaMax CD-3 Technology.

The company says the new system has been under development for the past 15 months and was "born out of the feedback that SunnComm has received from key personnel representing major and independent record labels, CD manufacturing professionals such as Sonopress and DCA, and Microsoft."

SunnComm says it has "tapped into all available consumer feedback information derived from the marketplace, referencing all copy-control technology products to date through industry organizations such as the RIAA and the IFPI." The company says it also took into consideration comments received from members of Congress when it was asked to testify before the House Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property earlier this year.

According to SunnComm, MediaMax CD-3 is a collection of technologies that can be used to restrict consumer use of both CD and DVD-Audio discs and is tightly integrated with Microsoft's Windows Media Platform and the Digital Rights Management capabilities that the Windows Media Platform has built in.

"When a consumer puts a SunnComm CD in a computer's CD-ROM drive, the computer can read and play the protected Windows Media Audio files through the multimedia user interface but cannot copy songs directly from the CD's main audio tracks," says the company. SunnComm adds that the compressed audio files that are copied using this system can be played back on personal computers but cannot be sent through e-mail or uploaded through file-sharing service networks.

But will MediaMax CD-3 play on all Red Book CD players? SunnComm's Bill Whitmore hedges, stating, "Playability for consumers has been one of the music industry's greatest concerns. I believe that SunnComm's suite of products has achieved the correct balance between playability and security."

Whitmore adds that SunnComm currently has agreements in place to develop prototypes with several record labels.