September 18, 2020

Paper on Copy-Protected CDs

Alex Halderman, a senior here at Princeton, has written a very interesting paper entitled “Evaluating New Copy-Prevention Techniques for Audio CDs.” Here is the paper’s abstract:

Several major record labels are adopting a new family of copy-prevention techniques intended to limit “casual” copying by compact disc owners using their personal computers. These employ deliberate data errors introduced into discs during manufacturing to cause incompatibility with PCs without affecting ordinary CD players. We examine three such recordings: A Tribute to Jim Reeves by Charley Pride, A New Day Has Come by Celine Dion, and More Music from The Fast and the Furious by various artists. In tests with different CD-ROM drives, operating systems, and playback software, we find these discs are unreadable in most widely-used applications today. We analyze the specific technical differences between the modified recordings and standard audio CDs, and we consider repairs to hardware and software that would restore compatibility. We conclude that these schemes are harmful to legitimate CD owners and will not reduce illegal copying in the long term, so the music industry should reconsider their deployment.

The paper will appear in the proceedings of the ACM’s DRM Workshop. It’s currently available, but only in PostScript format, on the Workshop’s site. (It’s available in PDF format here.)

It’s rare to see a workshop like this accept a single-author paper written by an undergraduate; but this paper is really good. (Grad schools: you want this guy!)