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How to Detect and Avoid Copy-Controlled CDs

Consumer Fraud by EMI/Virgin

Although EMI stopped releasing copy-controlled Virgin classical CDs sometime in 2004, these inherently defective products never were recalled and still plague the used CD marketplace. This page will help you identify and avoid them. If you have inadvertently purchased EMI/Virgin CCCDs, you are a victim of consumer fraud, and you should demand that EMI/Virgin replace the CCCDs with real CDs.

UPDATE 11 November 2005: The Sony-BMG copy-protected CD scandal apparently does not involve Sony and BMG classical CDs. At least 47 Sony and BMG pop CDs released after April 1, 2004 install a rootkit when played on a computer, without notifying the owner. This rootkit in turn can be and has been exploited by hackers. When customers uninstall the rootkit, their CD-ROM drives no longer work. Sony-BMG have lied about the number of CDs affected and continue to refuse to release a complete list. The details undoubtedly will come out in discovery in one or more of the class actions brought by injured consumers against Sony-BMG. See CDs affected by the Sony-BMG spyware on

UPDATE November 2004: EMI  reissued Emmanuelle Haïm's recording of Handel's Aci, Galatea & Polifemo this month on Red Book CDs, as Virgin 5455802. The 2003 CCCD version was Virgin 5455572.

UPDATE October 2004: The new recording of Handel's Serse, Virgin Veritas 5457112 is not copy controlled.

UPDATE August 2004: The consumer boycott of problematical EMI/Virgin copy-controlled classical CDs appears to have succeeded! EMI has resumed releasing new early music CDs in standard Red Book format and apparently will withdraw copy-controlled recordings and replace them with Red Book versions. The new Virgin recordings of Alessandro Scarlatti's La Santissima Trinità and Monteverdi's Orfeo are not copy-protected. Furthermore, the 2003 CCCD set of Handel's Deidamia, Virgin 5455502, has been withdrawn and this superb recording has been re-released on CD as Virgin 5456692. If you bought the copy-protected first release of this or any other Virgin classical recording, you should demand an exchange, since the disks were fraudulently misrepresented to be "CDs" but will not work in most car and portable CD players, some computers, and a few home CD players.

In 2003, in a misguided effort to prevent pop music fans from copying individual songs and distributing them on the Internet, EMI/Virgin began issuing new classical releases as copy-controlled CCCDs in the U.S. and western Europe. EMI markets real, Red Book CDs of the same recordings in some other markets, including countries in Asia where piracy is out of control. Among the first releases in CCCD format were two recordings of interest to readers of this website, Handel's Deidamia and Aci, Galatea & Polifemo.

Releasing early music in the inherently defective CCCD format demonstrates how poorly the EMI suits understand their classical music customers. I've never heard of anyone who swapped baroque opera recordings on Napster. Furthermore, opera sets missing their booklets sell for nominal amounts on eBay and at Academy Records in New York -- proof that classical consumers demand the entire package.

The problem with CCCDs is that they simply will not work on many CD players, particularly car and portable CD players. Even EMI has admitted as much: "EMI admits CD copy protection compatibility problems" by Tony Smith, The Register, 13 February 2004.

Classical music customers are at the high end of income distribution and are among the people most likely to own cars with CD changers. When they buy a recording, they expect it to play on their car stereos. If it won't play, they aren't likely to knowingly buy another CCCD. Moreover, high income customers are the least likely to bother making illegal copies from CDs, since their time is far more valuable than any nominal savings from not having to pay for the CDs.

Like many volume purchasers of classical CDs, I will never knowingly buy a CCCD. Had they been released on real CDs, I would own the recordings of Deidamia and Aci, Galatea & Polifemo, but I'm not going to waste money on imitation CDs that will not play on my car changer or possibly on my home deck and in the long run are destined to become worthless.

EMI obviously recognizes that anything easily distinguishable as a CCCD cannot be sold in profitable quantities. Consequently, they have attempted to deceive their customers by disguising and fraudulently representing Virgin CCCDs as real, Red Book CDs.

However, EMI's trickery does not withstand close examination. Every CCCD should have one or more of the following logos somewhere on the outside of the packaging:

For example, the recent Virgin recording of Purcell's Dido & Aeneas was released on CCCD in the U.S. There is nothing on the front or spine of the box to indicate that it is not a Red Book CD. But if you look carefully at the back of the box, you will find a very small copy of the first CCD graphic above.

While other record companies including BMG have issued CCCDs of popular music, I am not aware of any classical releases of CCCDs in the U.S. on labels other than Virgin. Perhaps the others have taken note of the widespread outrage among classical customers who have been duped by EMI.

Of the online music vendors, only FNAC indicates with any reliability whether a CD is in actuality a CCCD, with the phrase "Dispositif anticopie numérique" just below the number of disks in the set. It would be a good business practice for a vendor to disclose whether a "CD" is actually a CCCD, as CCCDs are much more likely to be returned.

I wonder whether there is a secret agreement between EMI and vendors not to disclose the copy protection status of CCCDs. It clearly is not in the interest of a vendor to sell something under false pretenses that is likely to be returned. Such an agreement presumably would reimburse vendors for the costs associated with returned CCCDs and the long-term injury to their goodwill from selling defective products.

If there were a market for bootleg copies of baroque opera CDs, copy control would have no impact, since a CCCD, like a DVD, can easily be duplicated bit-for-bit. The point of copy control is simply to prevent the copying of specific tracks, which makes no sense in respect of the recordings mentioned above. It is analogous to American airport security goons strip searching elderly Americans while Dumbo Bush's corrupt and inept, politically correct administration fines airlines for searching more than two Arabs per plane.

For further information, see websites listed in the Open Directory Category, Corrupted Audio CDs.

Corrupt audio discs, aka "Copy-Protected CDs" by the Campaign for Digital Rights.

Hot code from Heise: Tool to copy copy-protected audio CDs on download. The Inquirer, 6 April 2004.

How to Copy Copy-Protected CDs. The author writes: "Because I don't usually copy CDs, I found it ironic that the 'copy control technology' required me to make a copy of the album in order to use it. To figure out whether this was legal or not, I wrote an open letter to EMI . . . . As of December 2004, I have still to hear from EMI . . . ."

From the spec sheet of the new (late 2004) $3500 Accuphase DP-67 cd player (pdf):

Proper playback of CCCDs is not assured.

Copy control CDs (CCCDs) and other types of discs implementing some form of copyright protection may not play properly on Accuphase CD players, because such discs may not conform to existing CD standards. No assurances are made regarding playback and sound quality when using such discs.

For detailed information regarding CCCDs, please contact the disc manufacturer. [Ha!]

Only discs conforming to existing CD standards can be played on this player. Check the label on the disc before attempting to use it in this player.

From the Linn FAQs:

Copy-protected discs - what is Linn's position on the matter?

As you may be aware, the software side of the home entertainment industry has been focusing recently on combating piracy and, to this end, producers of audio, video and other media have introduced a number of measures in an attempt to reduce piracy levels. One such measure has been the inclusion of copy-protection on several audio disc titles. It has, however come to light that some copy-protection systems unfortunately cause problems for a sizeable number of legitimate users of these titles, in that the discs may not play or may have problems playing on their Hi-fi equipment. Discs incorporating such copy-protection do not conform to the published and accepted formal specifications for CD playback and therefore do not qualify as CDs. (Please note that some copy-protected discs are marked as such but others are not.)

Linn disc players meet all (and indeed exceed many) of the above-mentioned specifications for disc playback, but a disc which does not conform to the specifications cannot be guaranteed to play in all cases.

This issue is industry-wide and many other manufacturers of disc-players have been similarly affected.

EMI Music pulls copy control forum. The Age, 10 April 2003. Fortunately EMI can't censor the Internet!

Sony Music Lobbies for Ban on Markers

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