XCP CDs For 2005?

While a relative trickle of copy-restricted CDs have been released in the US, European labels have been more likely to experiment with lock-down technology. Russia is battling extreme piracy, as its culture and mass communications minister, Aleksandr Sokolov, reported to his government last week, asserting that pirated wares account for 80–90% of the overall audio and video sales in that country.

Sokolov says that his ministry is developing plans to protect intellectual property rights, including a verification program for licensed wares. Sokolov notes, "This will be our know-how enabling us to protect the market, at least for a while."

But back in the USA, only a small handful of releases have been encumbered with restriction technology—and of those, many were easily bypassed with felt-tipped pens, shift keys, or other simple hacks. However, there are indications the music industry is ready to take things up a notch.

Reports surfaced last week that Sony BMG Music is readying a rollout of restricted discs to begin early next year. At the center of these reports is a British company called First 4 Internet which has developed a suite of products to control CD usage.

The company's technology, XCP or Extended Copy Protection, is available in two versions, one aimed at the promo and pre-release market and the other, XCP2, aimed squarely at consumers. According to F4I, "XCP software protects the content of an audio disc without compromising playability or quality. By using a range of methodologies, including the construction of multiple protection layers, limiting the player accessibility to the provided player software, and encapsulating the Red Book audio content, XCP successfully protects the content from unauthorized copying."

In addition, the company reports that XCP2 is integrated with the audio content at the mastering stage, using the Aurora Professional software program. "Each protected master will contain a unique protection layer which avoids the possibility of a generic hack," says F4I. "It is a robust solution providing the highest levels of protection against casual piracy while ensuring full playability. XCP copy protection levels are designed to make it difficult for the average consumer to copy digital content from a protected CD."

F4I says that XCP2 CDs are formatted in such a way that they are recognised as a familiar disc in most playback environments. "The disc will present itself as a CD-ROM to PCs, a Mac CD-ROM to Mac computers, a VCD to DVD players, and a CDDA disc to audio CD players. This multifunctional disc format offers full playability and therefore greater flexibility without lowering protection levels."

For computer playback or creating a backup, XCP2 relies on each label's use of DRM-laden technologies such as Windows Media Player and RealOne Player to be compatible with their DRM features. F4I says that consumers can be enabled "to make limited copies of music on CD for home use but further copying is prevented as these CDs themselves are copy protected."

Critical to audiophiles is the company's assertion that while XCP2 employs five layers of copy restriction, it also maintains full Red Book audio playback and that "the original sound is not tampered with."