Microsoft Pushes Copy Protection with Windows Media

Finding middle ground when it comes to copy protection has proved nearly impossible, with consumers consistently blasting efforts by record labels to prevent copying by disabling CD playback on a PC. But Microsoft says it has found the answer with the Windows Media Data Session Toolkit and has begun to forge partnerships with numerous record companies.

The toolkit, a component of Windows Media 9 Series, enables content authors to include a second session on a CD or DVD containing protected content encoded with Windows Media Audio or Video, which can be accessed on a PC. Using Windows Media Digital Rights Management, music labels can specify when, where and how the content can used. The first session on the disc containing the original content will be inaccessible on a PC to prevent copying.

Such a move by Microsoft reinforces the company's recent trend to make its audio and video formats dominant in a market where open standards reign supreme. While Redmond has touted the quality and size of Windows Media Audio over its competition, consumers continue to utilize a variety of less restrictive formats such as MP3 and OGG. Microsoft partnered with numerous DVD manufacturers to include support for Windows Media, but the formats have yet to gain mainstream acceptance.

If Microsoft is successful in courting content owners such as record labels, consumers may be forced to accept Windows Media if they wish to access CD and DVD discs on devices other than dedicated players. Microsoft also plans to enable the inclusion of additional content on the second session such as interviews, liner notes and bonus tracks that are only accessible via PC.

"The strong industry support from UMG, EMI, MPO and others is a clear indication that the PC is recognized as a valuable medium for enjoying content that is CD or DVD based," said Microsoft's general manager for the Windows Digital Media Division, Dave Fester. "The Windows Media Data Session Toolkit enables PC-based playback of secure CDs and enables distributors to explore new revenue opportunities by creating greater synergy between physical recording formats and content available online."

Microsoft's biggest hurdle will be acceptance from the consumers who have been adverse to any content accessibility limitations thus far. While the Windows Media Data Session Toolkit does enable PC playback, it requires listeners to use Microsoft's Windows Media Player or an interface developed by the record company, rather than their audio player of choice. If consumers wish to access the CD or DVD in a car stereo, they must purchase one with support for Microsoft's Windows Media.

Sinead O'Connor's new CD "Sean-Nós Nua" and Len Doolin's "Once in a Lifetime" are the first albums to utilize a beta version of the Windows Media Data Session Toolkit. The technology has also been adopted by MPO, he world's largest independent CD manufacturer.

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