Cutting Off the Studio Pirates

It has become commonplace these days for a hot album to hit the streets days—if not weeks or even months—before its official release, inspiring all manner of stupid promo tricks on the part of record labels. Pearl Jam's recent Riot Act was distributed to the press in portable CD players with the lids glued shut and last week saw the White Stripes record label create 500 promo vinyl LPs of the group's impending Elephant release in place of the traditional advance CDs in an effort to stymie the digital pirate's plans.

But all to no avail, since the music from the Stripes and Pearl Jam discs were widely available on the Internet well before the official release dates, causing Elephant's release to be moved up several weeks.

And sometimes, even though the promo copies haven't even been released yet, popular albums still gain wide underground circulation. The problem stems from studio personnel who sneak out copies of works in progress and near-finished masters, releasing music that a label's publicity department hasn't even heard.

As a result, SunnComm Technologies announced last week that it has developed a new process called StudioMax as "a very powerful security feature" of the company's MediaMax technology. SunnComm says StudioMax is scheduled for presentation to music studios around the world this month.

According to the company, StudioMax will enable the artists and the studio owners to lock down the digital original audio content during the creative work-flow process of music under production. SunnComm explains that the new set of features would help to prevent insider leaks of audio content. "It is understood throughout the music industry that while music is being produced, a significant breach of security is prevalent. While artists are working step by step towards the final cut of a song, it is necessary for the studio to send evaluation copies of that content to many recipients for their input and approval. In many cases, this requires evaluation copies to be distributed to professionals throughout the artist's label as well as outside sound-testing facilities well before the music's scheduled release date."

SunnComm says that StudioMax can be used via an authoring tool kit which restricts use of the content within a "very controlled but easy-to-use format." The company adds that its technology will yield a studio-produced CD-R that will facilitate the secure transport of "full-spectrum, uncompressed" CD-A files available for "unlocking" by authorized personnel.

SunnComm's Peter H. Jacobs observes, "The music industry has to ensure that new music being produced in the studio is protected from illicit copying . If music is allowed to 'leak' out during the development process, the copy-control battle is lost before it starts."