August 27, 2002

Midbar says felt-tip marker hack for copy-protect CDs "completely neutralized"

- by Tina Gasperson -
Israel-based Midbar Tech announced today
that 10 million CDs using its Cactus Data Shield technology have been released
in Japan, bringing the total number of music CDs using the controversial
copy-protection utility to about 30 million. Coincidentally, a Japanese
entrepreneur is credited with the 1962 invention of the versatile writing
instrument called the fibre- or felt-tip pen.Marjie Hadad, Midbar spokesperson, said the CDs, which implement the CDS-200
protection scheme, will play on computers - unlike previous CDs released with
Midbar's CDS-100 technology, which caused myriad difficulties for PC users who
attempted to play purchased CDs in their computers' CD-ROM drives, as well as in
DVD players and car CD drives. Windows users had the fewest problems; by
installing a special utility included on the copy-protected CDs their PCs were
able to play the music.

The copy-protection technology works by using "proprietary electronic circuits
and software algorithms" to alter the data on the CD, making it unreadable by
CD-copying software. Midbar says that while the data is altered, the audio
quality remains "perfect."

The last spate of copy-protected CDs spurred some down-home ingenuity,
producing a deliciously simple method of circumventing the technology which
aims to prevent CD owners from making any copies, including those for personal
use only. The method involves the use of a black felt-tip marker pen, with the
ink carefully applied to a specific portion of the
CD in order to "prevent the prevention."

But Hadad says that won't work anymore. "Though the felt tip marker issue was never considered a universal hack,
Midbar did add a feature in the last version of the CDS-200 that completely
neutralizes even the remote possibility of its success."

Midbar's Web site promotes three different levels of copy protection. Its
CDS-100 release is apparently purposely designed to prevent any kind of computer
playback. This release has been reported to cause severe problems with
Macintosh computers - some users reported that the CDs utilizing CDS-100 copy
protection caused CD drives to lock up, rendering the drawer unopenable and the
computer itself unbootable (although some sources say Midbar's effect on Macs was not so extreme). Bug or
feature? You decide.

The CDS-200 release allows playback, and although as Hadad says, it is not
intended to allow a felt-tip hack, a grassroots effort will surely soon be
underway to test that claim. Japan's Pentel,
, once known as the Japan Stationery Company, is credited with the
invention of the felt-tip marker back in the mid-60's, and a company
representive assured us that production levels are more than adequate to cover
any increased demand as a result of the millions of copy-protected CDs flooding
the market.

CDS-300, scheduled for release some time in 2002, will work with downloadable
music services, to prevent data streams from being copied by the user.

Among the companies in Japan using the Cactus Data Shield technology are
Pioneer, and Memory-Tech.

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