Friday, March 4, 2011


It is long acknowledged that Radiohead's Amnesiac was the first major album that was widely downloaded illegally from the internet. Even though most people had dial up at the time and it probably took three weeks to download, this event was the first indication of the way music consumption was headed.

I was recently reminded of this when I popped my copy of Hail to the Thief into my computer and it wouldn't play. Ahh that's right, the visionaries at EMI (Radiohead's company) installed the Copy Control system on their cd's so that you couldn't rip them to your computer and thus stop illegal copying and file sharing. The discs were digitally encoded to stop your computer being able to download them so you could only listen to them, not access the files. EXCEPT these cd's would often not play on computers at all and the only way to remedy the situation was by using other means of copying (which are, in essence illegal).

Unfortunately for EMI, people with even the most rudimentary understanding of computers (and by rudimentary I mean knowing how to turn one on) could get around Copy Control. Back in the day I had an external burning drive for my archaic G4 tower which easily got around the problem as the disc burner didn't recognise the data encoding. Essentially, you had cds that would have difficulty playing in computers (way to piss off the consumer) but could be easily got circumvented producing frustration for ordinary music buyers and no obstacle for shifty pirate types - sheer brilliance.

I'm sure some genius at EMI probably thought this was going to save the company a lot of money but it was trying to keep yourself dry with an umbrella as a tsunami bears down upon you. I'm sure no one (apart from Steve Jobs) really had the vision to see how music consumption would evolve in such a short time but seriously, coming up with a protection system that makes your cds unplayable? Visionary!

(For the record Copy Control was introduced in 2001 and phased out in 2006 - I guess someone got the message)


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