On September 23 we mentioned that Arista released an album by singer Anthony Hamilton in a new “secure digital” format. Here now is an analysis of the technique by computer scientist John Halderman of Princeton:
- Abstract – MediaMax CD3 is a new copy-prevention technique from SunnComm Technologies that is designed to prevent unauthorized copying of audio CDs using personal computers. SunnComm claims its product facilitates “a verifiable and commendable level of security,” but in tests on a newly-released album, I find that the protections may have no effect on a large fraction of deployed PCs, and that most users who would be affected can bypass the system entirely by holding the shift key every time they insert the CD. I explain that MediaMax interferes with audio copying by installing a device driver the first time software from the CD is executed, but I show that this provides only minimal protection because the driver can easily be disabled. I also examine the digital rights management system used to control access to a set of encrypted, compressed audio files distributed on the CD. Although restrictions on these files are more relaxed than in prior copy protected discs, they still prohibit many uses permitted by the law. I conclude that MediaMax and similar copy-prevention systems are irreparably flawed but predict that record companies will find success with more customer-friendly alternatives for reducing infringement.
….Conclusions – Record companies will evaluate anti-copy technologies by weighing their ability to reduce infringement against their drawbacks. For customers who prize fair use rights–like the ability to time and space shift recordings and to create compilations of the music they own–the limitations SunnComm’s system places on these rights undermine the value of purchased music. This loss in value for music customers may fail to yield any benefit for the industry because of the weakness of anti-copy technologies. CD copy-prevention schemes that depends solely on software, as SunnComm’s does, will be trivial to disable, and alternative strategies that modify the CD data format will invariably cause public outcry over incompatibility with legitimate playback devices.
Even if copy-resistant CDs make it harder for users to illicitly copy CDs they own, the technology will not necessarily reduce the overall incidence of copyright violation. Peter Biddle et al. of Microsoft have much to say about this topic in their paper, “The Darknet and the Future of Content Distribution” . “Increased security (e.g. stronger DRM systems) may act as a disincentive to legal commerce,” they suggest, by driving would-be customers to underground sources, such as peer-to-peer file trading networks, that provide media in unrestricted forms. No existing security technology can prevent copying in every case, so protected recordings will inevitably become available from these so-called “darknet” sources. Biddle concludes that for content producers to effectively compete against illicit distribution, they must work to provide “convenience and low cost rather than additional security.”
If this theory is correct, the industry has the best chance of accomplishing its goals by giving customers more for their money and making it easier for them to buy music. I believe anti-copy CD technologies will prove unfruitful, and will therefore eventually be abandoned by record companies. There firms may take a cue from the movie industry and increase the value of CDs by bundling interesting bonus features rather than restrictive copy-control software. It seems likely that they will also capitalize on the popularity of digital distribution by aggressively supporting online services like Apple’s successful iTunes Music Store. These strategies likely will pave the way to reduced infringement by enticing more listeners to pay for recordings.
The report is fascinating, and even fairly understandable by the likes of me.