The SunnComm Also Sets
I love Leo Kottke's virtuoso guitar playing. Still, I hesitated to buy his album Sixty Six Steps, with bassist Mike Gordon, when Amazon specifically warned: "This Sony CD includes SunnComm MediaMax Version 5 content protection software that may expose security vulnerability when played on PCs." I don't love anyone quite enough to put a MediaMax-tainted CD into my PC. And when I rip a new CD for use in my iPod, I prefer a nice clean MP3 to the WMA-DRM format dictated by MediaMax. The iPod doesn't accept WMA files with DRM.
So I slipped my legally purchased CD into a legally purchased Marantz DR-6050 CD recorder, along with a legally purchased TDK CD-RW. The blank was a "music CD-RW, for digital audio recorders," as the packaging said. In other words, it was the kind of blank that's compatible with SCMS, the Serial Copy Management System, which permits one generation of legal burning, though you may not burn the copy.
"Music" CD-Rs and CD-RWs cost a little more than the regular kind. The blank-disc manufacturer pays the differential to CARP, the Copyright Arbitration Royalty Panel, administered by the U.S. Copyright Office, which ponies up to the record companies.
Anyway, the machine burned the CD to CD-RW without incident. I carefully adorned the original with a neon green label saying DO NOT PLAY IN PC and shelved it.
But would it be possible to convert the SCMS-encoded CD-RW to MP3? To find out, I placed the CD-RW in my PC and held my breath. Windows Media Player 10 ripped to MP3 at 192kbps, again without incident. As did MusicMatch. The MP3s now live happily on my PC—and in my iPod—and when I pass the cursor over the titles in Windows Explorer, they are identified as "Protected: No." Of course, they will always be protected in my heart.
It appears that the CD recorder grabbed the music, wrapped it in SCMS, and ignored all the other garbage on the original CD, whereupon the MP3 encoders did what came naturally. My PC did not display SunnComm's licensing agreement and shows no signs of MediaMax contamination. Since I used a CD-RW, I even got to recycle the disc.
Under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act of 1998, it is illegal to circumvent an anti-copying system. However, I circumvented nothing—I simply used my equipment for its intended purpose with no tinkering whatever. I also paid triple for the privilege: once to CARP for the SCMS-enabled player, again to CARP for the SCMS-enabled disc, and finally for the original CD. So the music industry got paid twice indirectly and once directly. Our right to use a SCMS-compatible CD recorder is sanctioned by law under the Audio Home Recording Act of 1992.
Do I get the Pulitzer Prize for this?
Mark Fleischmann is the author of the annually updated book Practical Home Theater. For links to the latest edition, visit www.quietriverpress.com.