Burning the Faithful

New copy-protected CDs screw over the only honest customers the music industry has left

Now, to avoid these hassles, you could buy a Mac or replace Windows with Linux on your computer, as both of these systems currently ignore rights-management issues and allow you to rip protected CDs in whatever format you like. Short of leaving the Windows world, a quick Google search will provide links to readily available player and ripper shareware oblivious to rights management. [Editor's note: In particular, try Googling "EAC."]

But a simpler alternative is to vote with your pocketbook and avoid these copy-protected discs altogether. Sony's releases are typically branded "CONTENT PROTECTED" on the front covers and provide computer and operating system compatibility on the backs. If you purchase CDs online, check with your e-tailer; Amazon.com typically marks these items with "COPY PROTECTED CD" right in the title. Short of boycotting your favorite bands, you can also download from an online store that supports your portable music player, such as iTunes for iPod users.

While the debate still rages as to whether file-sharing cuts into sales or promotes artists, it's evident that current rights-management solutions interfere with buyers' expectations, leaving them to wonder why they're paying the same list price for a disc that's less functional and user-friendly than those purchased a few months ago.

Finally, the effectiveness of a digital rights-management solution (or DRM, as it is commonly called) is inversely proportional to the savvy of a CD's owner. Cory Doctorow, outreach coordinator for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, frames this nicely in a recent speech. "Here's the social reason that DRM fails: Keeping an honest user honest is like keeping a tall user tall," he says. "DRM vendors tell us that their technology is meant to be proof against average users, not organized criminal gangs like the Ukrainian pirates who stamp out millions of high-quality counterfeits. It's not meant to be proof against sophisticated college kids. It's not meant to be proof against anyone who knows how to edit her registry or hold down the Shift key at the right moment or use a search engine. At the end of the day, the user DRM is meant to defend against is the most unsophisticated and least capable among us."

In other words, DRM compels mild-mannered computer users to become more capable, which provides them both a path around the restrictions and a tempting offer to stop buying CDs altogether. Way to protect your business, guys.

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