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THE PEN IS MIGHTIER THAN THE COPY PROTECTION?

Simple Office Supplies Foil Sony Anti-Copy Tech; Post-It Notes Baffle HITS Editor
It ain’t easy covering the new-media beat at a place like HITS, where the battery-powered fart machine is widely considered a mystifying wonder of the modern age.

But every once in a while, a tech story comes along that’s so zeitgeist-specific, even our klatch of editorial orangutans sees the water-cooler potential.

That’s what we’ve got on our hands with the widely circulated revelation that the anti-copying technology utilized on some Sony CDs—designed to prevent both burning to blank discs and ripping to MP3—was foiled by the use of a simple felt-tipped marking pen.

Apparently the process, Key2Audio, appends an unplayable first track, designed to prevent the CD from working in a computer drive. But scribbling over the outer edge of the "protected" disc’s shiny side with a pen—or artfully covering it with sticky paper—reportedly defeats this "security" measure.

"I think that none of these things are ready for prime time yet, and I’m not sure they ever will be," said one digital-music insider. "But CD copy-protection is at an early stage of development, not unlike early DRM [digital-rights management] attempts with Internet distribution. So far, every one of these things has backfired."

The standard joke among digerati, of course, is that the big, bad "copyright cartel" will try to ban marking pens. The sad truth, of course, is that someone will probably get canned for this.

While reporters are having a field day with office-supplies gags, the larger issue of protecting content by attempting to restrict playability remains a sore point between rights holders and technology freaks.

Let’s face it: even if a CD can be only played on a home CD player (let’s say all your Magic Markers have dried up), you can still get an audio signal out of it and record that. Then you can copy it any way you want, share it online and so on.

In a related story, covering up the latest issue of HITS with either a marking pen or sticky paper would be a huge improvement.

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