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Corrupt (Copy- Protected) CDs and fair-use rights

Updated June 21, 2002

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Fight against "copy-protected" CDs!There is something ominous and wrong happening that I would like to bring to the attention of all Toriphiles, and music-lovers in general.

The Record companies and other content providers are engaged in some ominous practices in their attempt to protect their copyright. While I support the right of artists to be compensated for their work, the tactics being used by the Industry go way too far, are often deceptive, and in the long run are going to hurt them more than help. They want to prevent you from exercising your fair-use rights to make copies of music for yourself. They don't want you to place music on your MP3 players, or even listen to music using your computer. They are altering the format of the CD to create something that is both inferior in quality and that will not play in all CD players.

I feel it is important for everyone to fully learn about this issue because if we fight it now, we may be able to make a difference and prevent this from happening. I have created this page in order to gather in one place a list of links that will both inform you about what the Record companies and content providers are doing or plan to d0, and links that will take you to web sites that show you what you can do to fight back.

I do want to say that I fully support the right of artists like Tori Amos to be compensated for their works. I am not against that at all. But the methods you see here are going too far and in the long run will hurt not only music lovers like us, but the artists themselves. I also need to say that copy-protected CDs are mainly being tested in Europe at the moment. There seems to be conflicting information on the extent of such CDs in the U.S. Some music fans report finding them while the record companies often deny that they are secreting testing such CDs in the U.S. Even if that turns out to be true, it is evident that such CDs appear to be something that will become a reality very soon in the future.

This page will not only cover the issue of copy-protected CDs, but also the more general issue of fair-use rights in the digital world. We have to fight now to make sure we continue to have these rights. See my links below!

What does Tori Amos think about this issue? We have no direct quotes from her yet, but Neil Gaiman did casually mention in his online journal in late May 2002 that he discussed the issue with Tori and that they both agreed that it was "a bad thing".

Learn more about the Corrupt (Copy-Protected) CD Problem (and other issues having to do with digital technology and fair-use)

(Most recently added links or articles are at the bottom of this section.)

For a good description of the "Copy-protection problem in general, check out this web page at the Campaign For Digital Rights web site. This page is based in the U.K., but it is perfectly valid for the U.S. as well. Most of the corrupt CDs are in Europe at the moment, but it should only be a matter of time before more start showing up in North America.

The best web site in the United States about this issue is at They cover the issue well, and even have a growing list of CDS that have been found in some places that are corrupt. Tori Amos' Strange Little Girls CD is actually on that list! (See the link to the Rolling Stone article below for more on that.)

An article about copy-protected CDs appeared in the June 20, 2002 issue of Rolling Stone magazine. The article mentions Tori and the fact that some fans report finding the Strange Little Girls album corrupted or copy-protected. The article quotes folks at Warner who have denied that the CDs was released that way. Click here to read the article. At this time, I am not 100% sure if copies of Strange Little Girls was released in the U.S. copy-protected. There seems to be some evidence that there was, but it is not conclusive...

This Cutting Edge column contains some excellent commentary on the problem. (Once you click the link, scroll down to the heading that says, "Copy Rights, Copy Wrongs".)

Philips, a company that co-created the CD, does not support this copy-protection at all. Read this article about it at

Read this excellent article from It focuses on the problems that Mac users are having with these corrupt CDs, but the author makes some general comments on the situation that are very well stated and worth reading.

Read this Wired News article about a dangerous piece of U.S. legislation called the Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act (CBDTPA). A very bad idea... If you want to help fight this, go to this page at the Electronic Frontier Foundation web site.

Read an editorial and several comments from Mike Gray, a Toriphile with some really good insight into this issue. posted an article on May 24, 2002 about how some people are bypassing the copy-protection on some CDs with a marker pen! (Thanks to Evan Careclakis, Brian Avery, Michelle, Isaac and Kiki679 for telling me about this one.) You can also find a story like this on ZDNET UK News.

Check out the excellent Campaign For Audiovisual Free Expression. There is a web site for it from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. This campaign is more general than the CD issue itself in that it deals with the concept of Fair Use, which is a right that is threatened by "copy-protected" CDs. (Thanks Jacqui!)

Terry A. East tells me about another vital web site called The site helps you fight for your fair-use rights which are under attack by things like "copy-protected" CDs. This is a Must-See web site!

Added June 21, 2002: The five major record companies have been hit with a class-action lawsuit challenging copy-protected CDs. Read about this at

If you know of any other good article online about this issue, please email me!

Things you can do to fight against corrupt (copy-protected) CDs web page (U.S.)

Campaign For Digital Rights web page (U.K./Europe) (Protecting fair-use rights in the digital world)

Selected quotes from articles about the issue


I don't know what bugs me the most about this situation. High up on the list is the way the music cartel is treating customers: as thieves and pirates. Computer users aren't the only ones affected either, since many normal CD players, DVD players, and car CD players also reportedly have trouble with these corrupt audio discs. Some companies believe that the customer is always right; these music companies seem to believe that the customer is always criminal.

But can that bit of stupidity compete with the uninformed arrogance that copy prevention technologies, particularly when applied in only part of the world, even begin to dent usage of the peer-to-peer file sharing networks? A cursory search showed that numerous tracks from the Spider-Man movie soundtrack, one of the albums listed as corrupt on the Campaign for Digital Rights site, are readily available for downloading. It takes only a single person to make a copy of an audio disc - even if it requires an extra analog-to-digital step - before the music appears on the file sharing networks. Worse, if certain audio discs are known to be corrupt, I can see many computer users downloading copies of the songs rather than purchasing the disc, just to avoid the hassle....

Of these, I think the prize goes to treating customers as criminals. Believing that copy prevention technologies can't or won't be broken, and thinking that they could make any difference are indeed arrogant and uninformed, but treating your customers as criminals not only encourages them to act that way, it also poisons the well for future sales, even for CDs that have no copy prevention technologies in place. I know that my level of disgust with the music cartel has distinctly cooled my enthusiasm for buying music except directly from independent musicians, and I've certainly heard similar sentiments from others.

From Campaign For Digital Rights

Ever since Napster came to prominence, the music CD publishers have been looking for a way to stop people sharing MP3s extracted from their CDs, and now they think they've found it -- by 'copy-protecting' the CD releases. They hope that by making CDs unplayable on computers that this will reduce the number of MP3s getting onto the internet.

However, these new CD formats are unlikely to reduce MP3 file-sharing, because you can still copy a CD via digital connections, or if all else fails through plugging an audio lead into the back of the CD player. Actually, it might turn out to be even easier than that -- software work-arounds have come to light for at least one of the formats already.

What is worse is that CDs were never designed to play on one machine better than another -- they were designed to play equally well on every CD player. So, to make a CD that will play on a normal CD player but not on a computer means bending and breaking the rules that define what a CD is. This is a very approximate art indeed, with many unpleasant side-effects.

From the Cutting Edge

I just want to say at this point that I'm in favour of copyright. I believe that musicians are entitled to specify the conditions under which their works are recorded and performed, and if one of those conditions is that they should be paid, that's perfectly OK by me. What I'm not in favour of is yet another attempt to make the very use of music more difficult, which will in turn cripple the very phenomenon that could possibly make people like me buy more music because they can listen to more music.

When I buy a CD (which I do, frequently), the first thing I do is rip it (that is, make a direct digital copy from my CD-ROM drive) onto my computer network. Then I can access the track wherever I am in the house and make compilations of the tracks that I have paid for to use in the car. I listen to a lot more music this way and, undoubtedly, buy more. Yes, I have used Napster-like services; but the effect of free music downloads has been that I buy even more CDs, because I hear artists I wouldn't have heard otherwise and want a full-quality copy of their works.

Make of this what you will, but what the record companies make of it is that ripping CDs is a threat to their very existence, and they are seeking to make it impossible. And they're doing it in the worst possible way: by modifying the CD format so that ripping doesn't work.

From Toriphile Mike Gray

Copy Protection, a subject I feel especially strongly about myself - I wrote an editorial for our University paper on the very subject, which is attached to the bottom of this e-mail. My closest comparison is to the idea of "snake oil" salesmen - they're selling a product which serves only to make copy protection manufacturers rich and benefits no-one. Plus it treats the consumer like a criminal, and if you start making that kind of assumption about people, I believe they'll prove you right. Add to that the protection being employed by Sony can be defeated with a simple black marker...

They're locking out the people who *buy* music. Those most likely to use computers are also those most likely to buy music - specifically the youth demographic. College students, for instance, are likely to only have their computers/laptops with them at school rather than a full music system... I've particularly enjoyed the backlash over the leaked Eminem album. One would suggest that unless the pirates wrote, sang and produced the album themselves, then the leak might *just maybe* be traceable back to themselves... is a fine resource on such matters, incidentally...

I interviewed Heather Nova back in October of last year and asked about this very topic...

Q: In Europe there was copy protection on your CD which meant it couldn't be played on computers. for myself as a student, all I have is a computer at University.

A: Nothing to do with me. The first I knew about it was when I started seeing comments from fans saying they were upset, pissed off, and I was pissed off too because nobody consulted me, the record company didn't ask me if it was OK with me, and I also listen to CDs on my laptop all the time, so I'm against the idea, because I think serious hackers will find a way round it anyway, but there was nothing I could do, it was too late. Apparently there's a group of record companies in Germany who have gotten together and it's on all their releases, not just my CD, all of their releases. I was very upset because the fans were upset; I want to give them a product they can use.

------------- Mike's Editorial ----------------

CD Copy Protection

November 5th this year [2001] was infamous for a new reason, as it marked the release by BMG of the first copy protected audio CD in the UK, that CD being "White Lillies Island" by Natalie Imbruglia.

The reason for protection on CDs is to avoid the"ripping" of CDs to MP3 files which can be freely distributed on the Internet. Sounds fair enough, doesn't it? But there's a catch. The protected CDs won't play on a computer, and that's big news for students who don't have a stand alone CD player with them. It means that you could buy a CD and find it quite literally useless.

To protect the CD, its Table of Contents (the "index" if you will) is deliberately corrupted, meaning that the disc fails to meet the red-book standards laid down when the CD format was defined, and thus no guarantee of compatibility with any equipment can be made.

There was a twist to the Imbruglia story, however. Computer users who expected it not to work found that actually they could play it on their computers, as the manufacturer had put a program on which, believe it or not, played a large, encrypted MP3 file from the CD, however the quality was much lower than a standard audio CD.

So not only was Miss Imbruglia "torn", she was also fashionably "pre-ripped", and it was soon realised that you could simply copy this data file and player to a blank CD and create a copy. Not only that, the MP3s of the CD were already on the Internet before the CD was released, as they had cleverly omitted to protect promotional copies.

On November 20th, BMG realised the backlash they had created was doing them harm and offered to replace all "protected" copies with standard copies for free.

All we can hope is that they've seen the error of their ways and that people who are actually buying CDs are not the ones who they should be punishing.

Mike Gray

From the Campaign For AudioVisual Free Expression:

We believe individuals must be allowed to "circumvent" digital copy protection in order to exercise their fair use rights. We believe it is unjust to keep new technologies from the entire public because an abuse on the part of some individuals is conjectured. We believe people should have the option to choose audiovisual technologies that do not assume that they are criminals. We believe it is unethical to falsely advertise products as fully functional digital recorders when devices will not allow serial copies of recordings. In short, we believe people should have freedom of speech and choice in the digital age!

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