When is a CD not a CD?

When it’s published by BMG.

I purchased a copy of the new Sarah MacLachlan album the other day, and it’s really rather nice. But it’s not a CD, since it doesn’t comply with the standard for how data is stored on a Compact Disc - CD is more than the physical media, y’know. On the back cover is a logo from the IFPI and a box that states that the disc will play in home CD players, and on PCs of a certain spec level, but not much else. Of course, I didn’t spot this in the shop. There’s a lesson learned.

I bung the disc in my PC, and up pops a box saying that in order to play on my computer “a number of files need to be updated.” Not “some software must be installed.” Is this a little misleading? I think so. Not to mention that the panel on the album’s back cover made no mention of software other than Windows being required. Oh yes, if you use a Mac, sorry.

iTunes is unable to access the tracks properly - they are full of noise and skips and are totally unlistenable.

So, having purchased a new album specifically to play on a number of different devices, my options are limited to the following:

  • Stereo system in the living room.
  • Car CD player.
  • On the PC in a compressed format, using a fantastically resource-hungry (CPU usage sitting at a constant 100%) piece of software that installs itself under false pretences - there's a name for that kind of thing, and it's not nice.

I cannot play it through the software of my choice, nor can I play it on my iPod.

The box directs me to a website listing BMG’s Company Statement on Copy Control. A choice quote is as follows:

"World music sales for the year 2001 fell by 5% in value and by 6,5% in units. Europe fell slightly by 0,8% in value and saw a drop in units sold of 2,2%. In the world?s major markets - including the US and many parts of Western Europe - this decline is attributed to a large extent to unauthorised CD-R copying. Two years ago, on a worldwide basis, one digital copy was made for every three music CDs sold. Last year, that ratio had shrunk dramatically to one-to-two. In 2001, for every CD album sold, one copy was burned. That amounts to around 2.5 billion CDs a year. At these levels of massive copying and piracy, huge damage is being done to legitimate recorded music sales."

A footnote gives the source of these statistics as the IFPI. A not-exactly-independent body with more than one vested interest. Whose copy-protection technology is employed by BMG? Indeed.

I wonder about those statistics. How well do they take account of factors other than CD-R? Say, the current shaky global economic climate? And where exactly do they get their info on how many digital copies are made?

I cannot say whether piracy is a problem on the scale that the big record companies claim, although I’ll admit to a certain healthy scepticism. But I will add my voice to those attempting to point out that those companies, and the artists whose best interests they all claim to have at heart, could really do with getting their various heads out of the sand and start looking seriously at new delivery mechanisms for their product. Indeed, the same BMG site does say the following:

In addition, BMG is cooperating with various partners in the music industry ( as well as online and distribution portals (Lycos Europe, OD2) to develop secure, easy to use and exciting digital information and download offers. In the future, fans will be offered music in a protected form on secure sound carriers as well as through mobile transfer systems.

OD2. Yay. I’ve tried it, and I wasn’t impressed. I’m still waiting for a paid-for download service that will let me use the format I want on the device I want. Given my iPod-use, I’ll even settle for the iTunes Music Store being available in the UK. I want to pay for these services, but no-one is providing one worth paying for!

The irony is, anyone who could be bothered could circumvent this copy protection with the right equipment - which I can guarantee you anyone who listens to music and has a PC will possess. And last time I checked there were still such things as MiniDiscs and cassettes. All this clever digital gubbins, and all that is required to beat it is a little bit of old-fashioned analogue thought. Which makes me ask, is it worth it?

Not that I could be bothered. But I’m left with an album that I can only play on two out of the four devices I intended to listen to it on, and a box that still misleadingly says ‘CD’ on it. If I didn’t want to listen to the music, I’d be ready to cry ‘boycott’. Which I guess is why this has come so far - we don’t like the restrictions, but we still want to listen to the music. Which gives the big businesses the power to do whatever they want.