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The CD Writer
Copy Protection for CD and DVD Duplication Systems

Hugh Bennett

December, 2000 | For many years, the software industry has been content with the level of copying security afforded by virtue of distribution on compact disc. This comfort-level vanished with the runaway popularity of inexpensive CD-R/RW drives with worldwide sales estimated at over 40 million units this year alone. As a defensive strategy, publishers of an ever-growing number of software titles now employ some method of copy protection. As CD-R duplication and production systems take on a greater role in software publishing, they, too, must incorporate copy protection capabilities for CD-R to reach its full business potential.

Some commercial software copy protection schemes in use today include SafeDisc (Macrovision), SecuROM (Sony DADC), DiscGuard (TTR Technologies), and LaserLock (MLS LaserLock International). These employ security features such as digital signatures, encryption, electronic fingerprints, and watermarks which either prevent the act of copying or render useless any copies made.

While such systems may be effective against duplication attempts by consumer software recording products such as Easy CD Creator and Toast (Roxio), Nero (Ahead), PrimoCD (Prassi Europe), DiscDupe (Plextor) and others, most copy protection technology only deters amateurs. At least a half-dozen specialized utilities capable of RAW reading and writing are now available to reproduce most protected discs. And unlike the good old days when hobbyists had to decipher the latest crack from HardCore Computist magazine or borrow a "Pirate's Harbor" utility disk from the local users group's software library, now anyone with access to the Internet can download everything needed to copy most protected products.

It's obvious that a growing number of software publishers are embracing copy protection to safeguard their products. From a business perspective, the CD-R duplication and custom disc production communities simply cannot ignore it. But today, commercial-grade copy protection remains the sole domain of replication.

Currently, the only company providing any type of copy protection capability within their CD-R duplication systems is MediaFORM. By optionally inserting and writing invalid blocks at the beginning of Mode 1 data CD-ROMs, MediaFORM's standalone systems furnish an elementary level of copy protection designed to frustrate commercial duplication equipment and consumer software products which duplicate discs at the block level. MediaFORM's network-based systems offer a little stronger deterrent by allowing the invalid blocks to be placed anywhere within the disc's data area and give programmers the option of checking the discs for the presence of the blocks in their software. However, while these capabilities are credible and more than sufficient for corporate and institutional applications, they are not intended as an answer for the commercial software industry.

Indeed, what the market requires is for CD-R production equipment manufacturers to work in concert with commercial software copy protection providers, to license their technologies and incorporate them into professional-level systems. Not only will this allow CD-R duplication to compete with replicators to create products that require embedded copy protection, it will allow publishers to protect pre-release and prototype copies of their software distributed for testing purposes.

Looking into the near future, copy protection is not just an issue that concerns duplication of CD-R. While most commercial video titles distributed on DVD incorporate the Content Scrambling System (CSS) to prevent unauthorized digital copying, companies such as TTR Technologies are also developing schemes for protecting software distributed on DVD-ROM. In the CSS system, numerous data blocks are scrambled such that the video information can only be deciphered using a decryption "title key" contained in a reserved area of the disc. Older DVD-R recorders automatically wrote null data in the key area to deter copying and now the DVD-R specification mandates that all blank discs have their key area prewritten or molded at the factory with similar dummy information.

There's no denying that this approach should help deter copying at the consumer level, but it creates a significant barrier for commercial DVD-R production systems since they can't record CSS-encrypted discs. How many Hollywood studios would allow Web-based disc-on-demand companies to offer movies without encryption? And how many record labels would allow DVD-Audio titles to be duplicated without watermarks?

Incorporating commercial copy protection into CD-R production devices involves more than simply adding a few lines of programming code to a recorder's firmware. In addition to dealing with the problem of using mass-market recorders that change every eight months, there are the always significant licensing and business obstacles. Where will the copy protection technology holders make their money? Will the production hardware involved prove too expensive, or will it incorporate limited use-license systems where renewals must be purchased? The problems for DVD-R are even tougher. For example, what incentive do Hollywood and the DVD Forum have to upset the apple cart? Love it or hate it, copy protection is here to stay. How the CD-R and DVD-R production communities choose to deal with it will invariably influence the long-term health and expansion of the commercial duplication market.

Hugh Bennett (hugh_bennett@compuserve.com), an EMedia contributing editor and co-columnist for THE CD WRITER, is president of Forget Me Not Information Systems Inc., a company based in London, Ontario, Canada offering CD and DVD-ROM recording, mass reproduction, and consulting services as well as CD-R/RW and DVD-R/RAM hardware, duplication systems, software, and blank media sales.

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