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BMG Licenses CD Copy-Protect Technology

BMG became the first of the five major music companies to license SunnComm’s MediaMax CD copy-protection technology for use on commercial CDs.

BMG declined to say when MediaMax CDs would be available in the United States, but a spokesman said, “We feel the MediaMax CD-3 technology is at a level suitable for the consumer market.”

BMG previously licensed SunnComm’s technology for use on promotional discs distributed in the U.S. The company, however, hasn’t marketed copy-protected discs to U.S. consumers.

Macrovision, SunnComm’s main rival in CD copy protection, said the announcement underscores growing momentum in the U.S. music industry for copy-protected CDs. “The tide has turned,” said Macrovision marketing VP Adam Sexton. He expects “major commercial releases” in the U.S. of copy-protected CDs in the “hundreds of thousands” by Christmas. Many of them will use Macrovision’s latest technology, CDS-300, he predicted. Deployment will grow more widespread in 2004, he continued.

Phoenix-based SunnComm bills its MediaMax CD-3 solution as a “new approach to reducing casual piracy.” SunnComm’s technology, like Macrovision’s CDS-300, blocks PC playback of a disc’s Redbook CD audio tracks, but through a PC’s standard Windows Media player, it lets PCs play compressed Windows Media Audio (WMA) files that also reside on the disc. The technology can also be used in conjunction with Microsoft’s digital rights management (DRM) technology to give copyright holders the option of letting PC users transfer the compressed WMA files to their PC’s hard drive. Users could even be allowed to transfer the WMA files to portable devices supporting WMA’s codec and DRM technology.

Authentication technologies would prevent the sharing of usable files through file-sharing programs such as Morpheus.

SunnComm said its technology also gives copyright holders the option of letting users e-mail WMA-format songs to friends who could play them for a limited period or for a certain number of times.

BMG declined to say which MediaMax features it would implement in commercial releases.

Previous copy-protection technologies prevented PCs from playing music CDs, or they let PCs play only the compressed music files that accompanied the disc’s Redbook audio tracks. In either case, they prohibited transfers of music to a PC’s hard drive and to portable devices.

The first discs available with those technologies admittedly suffered from compatibility problems with standard CD and DVD players, Sexton said, but the technologies have progressed, and “there have been very few complaints,” he claimed.

In the U.S., Sexton noted, Universal used an earlier generation Macrovision technology, CDS-200, in less than a million commercial releases as a test, and consumer complains were “very few.”