From Hero to Zero | March 30, 2004

My girlfriend bought me a copy of Zero7’s new CD for my birthday the other week. Putting the CD on at work, I was surprised to find that it started skipping all over the place. A little dismayed I had a quick look at the case and discovered the answer. It wasn’t actually a CD, by which I mean that it was copy protected.

From what I understand (stop me if I’m wrong) copy protection basically involves deliberately adding errors to a disk. Most low end CD players simply don’t register these errors, but better quality CD players and those meant for reading data get confused and either skip, or don’t play at all.

Testing the disk at home, it worked fine in my cheap CD player, but was an absolute no go on my iMac. In fact it basically jammed the whole CD player up and forced me to manually eject the thing while it was still spinning.

As I pretty much only listen to music using iTunes at home these days, and have stopped using a discman in favour of an iPod, not being able to transfer my music onto my computer is a big problem. If I’d bought it for myself, I would have probably taken it back to the shop and asked for a proper CD, but as it was a present, it’s not something I can really do. It looks like more and more disks in the UK are being released with copy protection, so it’s well worth baring this in mind next time your shopping for music.

Posted at March 30, 2004 9:36 AM


Chris Vincent said on March 30, 2004 10:17 AM

I’m not sure if this is the same copy protection, but there’s one that can be thwarted simply by using a felt-tip marker, such as a Sharpie, to blacken the outside edge of the disc. I forgot the explanation of how it works (something about making the drive ignore the data layer), but apparently it does the trick.

Then again, this might be one of the newfangled techniques that I haven’t looked into yet. I’ve pretty much stopped buying CDs altogether, because I don’t believe the industry deserves my business. The artists do, of course, so I attend concerts and buy merch directly from them. The industry can’t claim any royalties this way.

Mike P. said on March 30, 2004 11:18 AM

Kinda hacky, but if this is a ‘once in a while’ sort of thing, you could record it onto your laptop via discman+mic input.

Pretty sure we used to do it this way when using Mini Disk players to record live sets for a client of ours.

Ha! I found a way to ‘preview’ comments on this site…

Tim said on March 30, 2004 12:39 PM

“When It Falls by Zero7: Reported corrupt in the UK, with a small warning sticker on the packaging. Only 4 tracks appear in iTunes on one tested OS9 Mac. On another Mac (an iMac), the entire system crashes if the disc is played. The owner now regards the disc as a “waste of a tenner”. Ultimate Dilemma please take note — these people are not happy campers.

Fight the power - take it back and demand a refund, as the product you’ve been sold is not a CD.

Eric TF Bat said on March 30, 2004 12:42 PM

Testing… I suspect I know what Mike’s cryptic comment means… testing… testing… Hmmm, yep, not quite what I thought, but it’s close enough. The trick: post your comment without a name. When you get the error message, there’s a preview button on the error page. Useful!

Andy - why did you take out the Preview button from the main comment template? Taking out Post I can understand (force people to check their more egregious HTML errors even if they’re sure they didn’t make any) but taking out Preview seems a lot weird.

Oh… obCDs: shame the buggers publicly. Copy protection is crap.

Tim said on March 30, 2004 12:45 PM

> Fight the power

Or rather…ask your g/f nicely if she would like to fight the power for you ;)

As it’s a gift you may not want to so readily look it in the mouth, so to speak.

Robert Castelo said on March 30, 2004 12:55 PM

Ha, my sister is the nanny for Zero Seven’s manager. I’ll pass on your comments to her, and let her know she’s loosing out on sales to the design community (probably Zero Seven’s core market).

I wonder if the band actually gets any choice on whether their album is released with copy protection crap or not, I’ll ask.

parnissia said on March 30, 2004 4:33 PM

Very annoying indeed! Like you, I almost exclusively use my computer’s CD drive to import my music onto my hard drive—I don’t even OWN a conventional stereo. So the latest attempts to protect CD tracks from being copied onto computers is more than inconvenient.

katharine said on March 30, 2004 4:35 PM

RE: The artists do, of course, so I attend concerts
and buy merch directly from them.

This is a great idea. Artists make almost ALL of their money from merchandise and concert ticket sales, and virtually NONE from CD sales!

Gabe da Silveira said on March 30, 2004 5:44 PM

Is there a way to identify these discs before buying them? I can’t stand the thought of giving record companies money for underhanded shit like this.

Gabriel said on March 30, 2004 5:58 PM

Well the artist doesn’t always have a choice in this but as a Zero7 fan I would be interested in knowing if they did have a choice themselves.

I purchased a copy of the CD the day it was available in Canada and had no problems getting it into iTunes (and my iPod). I don’t remember seeing any copy protection labels, but I’ll double check that when I get home.

I assume the Canadian version of the CD is not protected though. Canadian copyright law clearly specifies that we are indeed allowed to copy CDs (even if they belong to someone we don’t know) as long as the actual copying is done by the person who will use it. We pay a levy on all CD-Rs/CD-RWs as well as portable MP3 players to have this right (meaning my iPod cost an extra Cnd$25 because of the levy) so they better not mess with my right to copy (picture me frowning as I say this…hehe).

Michel Fortin said on March 30, 2004 9:36 PM

This kind of “copy-protected” CD does not conform to the audio CD specification and cannot have the usual audio CD logo on them. So if I saw a CD without the CD logo, I would immediately assume it is copy-protected and may not work on my computer.

Another reason for not buying this kind of thing is that they are generally more fragile. On a normal CD there is two tracks for the audio. If the first one is unreadable (a scratch or anything else) the player just go to the second track and read the missing data from there and it’s like if nothing happened. On copy-protected CD, the first track contains voluntarily corrupted data in a way that confuse computers drives. Audio-only players are less confused by this and simply correct the corrupted data using the second track. But what happens when the second track is scratched?

bongoman said on March 30, 2004 9:52 PM

In Australia there is legislation in place whereby if you sell something, you are warranting that it is fit for use. Your CD, to my view, clearly fails that test.

Dustin said on March 31, 2004 6:43 AM

This is horrible. If it ever happens to me I don’t think I’ll be able to control myself. How can the industry be doing this? I’m sure bands wouldn’t want their music being treated this way. Pretty soon we’ll be required to buy “upgraded” stereos for these kinds of discs. Makes you wonder if Sony, Panasonic, etc. are in on this as well.

Andy Budd said on March 31, 2004 9:38 AM

The disk had a couple of “copy protection” stickers and a notice saying it should play in most CD players and computers. It doesn’t have a CD logo on it, but to be honest, that’s not something most consumers would check, or even know about. The record shops are still putting theses disks on shelves marked CD’s. Like I said, I I’d bought it myself, I’d defiantly have taken it back. However as it was a present, I thought that was a bit cheeky.

Richard Rutter said on March 31, 2004 9:57 AM

Yeah, I’ve accidentally bought some non-CDs recently but thus far I’ve not had any problems playing and ripping them on a PC with iTunes. Haven’t tried them with a Mac yet.

As I understand it, there a number of different copy proetction mechanisms out there some, as Andy said, introduce errors, otherwise reduce error correction. I seem to remember that European music buyers are being used as an unwitting market testers for the technologies.

Of course what pisses me off is that the very people being punished by ‘copy proteciton’ are the very people who are actually paying for CDs in the first the place. Let’s not forget too that the BMI is hardly whiter-than-white, having been found guilty of price-fixing a couple of years ago.

Robert Castelo said on March 31, 2004 10:26 AM

The shops selling these discs shouldn’t be allowed to sell them in the same racks as CDs, they should have to sell them in a separate space clearly marked as “copy protected disks”.

That would kill the whole thing stone dead.

Tim said on March 31, 2004 10:33 AM

> Is there a way to identify these discs before
> buying them? I can’t stand the thought of giving
> record companies money for underhanded shit like
> this.

Gabe - check out

It’s a list of known corrupt CDs.

Alex said on March 31, 2004 10:40 AM

Robert Castelo,

You have a good point. Since these disk are not Audio CDs they should be sold separatly the same way that Audio DVDs are separated. Also I am sick and tired of checking the back of every CD to see whether its “chanchnced”, “protected” etc. Sometimes the information is not there or covered by the price sticker … argg.


Ask your girlfriend to return the CD, provided she has the receipt. This type of copy protection should not be legal since it does not allow people to exercise their fair use right and only hurts people who actually by CDs. Fools!

francesco said on March 31, 2004 1:44 PM

try “cdparanoia”, on linux never failed in ripping a copy protected cd to mp3. (fair use, of course)

Scott Hutchinson said on March 31, 2004 1:55 PM

I had the same problem with the Zero 7 album, I found that Cool Edit Pro (now Adobe Audition) ripped it without errors. Though I then had to enter all the track listings manually in iTunes.

Tim said on March 31, 2004 2:23 PM

While fighting the power, one should remember that UK law does not enshrine “fair use” in the same way that US law does. Even if it did, fair use is defined as “copying for the purposes of criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research.

Even taping your CD for use in the car isn’t actually legal, but the powers-that-be haven’t gone after people. The law needs clarifying. Oh - wait - we have the EUCD! But no - that’s bad…

[OT - Andy: your “remember personal info” thing isn’t remembering my personal info!]

Shawn Kelley said on April 1, 2004 11:18 AM

I ran into this exact problem with a Norah Jones cd (purchased in Canada, btw). If you look on the surface of the cd, you can see two separate “sessions”. The inner (or first) one is the audio, the outer is the data. I used a black dry-erase marker and just colored all over the outer section, which allowed me to import the cd just fine.

dusoft said on April 5, 2004 11:14 AM

Andy, copy over to wav files in PC CD-RW drive and then just write it to new CD as plain old Audio CD.
I think as this is clearly against you as a consumer, there could not be any sanctions against you. and BTW: here in Slovakia, we have law, that you can do a backup copy of CD for your purposes (I guess there is nothing about copy protection in the law…).