Dennis D. McDonald (ddmcd@outlook.com) is an independent consultant located in Alexandria Virginia. His services and capabilities are described here. Application areas include project, program, and data management; market assessment, digital strategy, and program planning; change and content management; social media; and, technology adoption. Follow him on Google+. He also publishes on CTOvision.com and aNewDomain.

Online Music Sales and Crippled CD's

Introduction


I am surveying online CD vendors to determine their policies about selling CD's with "copy protection" features that prevent certain types of copying.

Amazon


On 6/25/05 I sent this email to Amazon:

I am surveying the online companies I buy audio CD's from, and publishing the results on my blog. I am trying to find out which companies are selling copy-protected audio CD's and, more specifically, which companies identify such CD's in advance so prospective purchasers will know which CD's have copy protection features that may prevent certain types of legal copying (e.g., BMG and Sony's recent announcement).

My interest is primarily personal. While I do not share CD's I purchase with others, I am concerned that certain types of copy protection will prevent my copyng tracks from a purchased CD onto, say, an Apple iPod, as is the case with certain types of copy protection. Naturally, I would want to know about such "crippling" features in advance so that I can avoid such purchases; why buy something I cannot use?

My blog page is here: http://ddmcd.squarespace.com/living-with-technology/2005/6/19/bmg-music-service-and-crippled-cds.html

I will be happy to publish your response on this issue.
Dennis D. McDonald
Here is Amazon's response to the above email:
Thanks for writing to us at Amazon.com.

First let me apologize for the inconvenience you have experienced. Kindly know that, as we are a retailer, however, I am not equipped to answer this question for you. You might try searching for this information using A9.com or your favorite web search engine.

Due to the competitive nature of our business, our policy is not to give out information on the inner workings of our company. I sincerely apologize for the inconvenience and frustration this may have caused to you.

Further, kindly know that the only information we can give you about a particular CD is what we display on the detail page for that CD. On many detail pages, in addition to the artist and recording label, you'll also find links to track listings, reviews, customer comments, a biography of the artist, a list of musical influences, and other CDs by that artist. All of these links appear in the left-hand margin. We know that sometimes the amount of information we have may make it difficult to make a purchasing decision unless you already know something about the CD.

Our editorial staff is constantly increasing the amount of information we provide about each item in our music store, and we invite you to add to this information by submitting customer reviews for your favorite (or not-so-favorite) CDs.

Our information is limited to what the publishers and manufacturers supply to us; this information appears on our Web site. We know that, often, the amount of information we have may make it difficult to make a purchasing decision unless you already know something about the item.

Our editorial staff is working on building up the amount of information we provide about each item. You might also try the Web Search on our home page, directly beneath our Product Search box. Also, our millions of items, as well as helpful tips for navigating our web site and placing an order, online.

Before placing an order, I would recommend reading our Help pages at: (help page link inserted here)

In case, if you have any further questions, kindly visit our Help pages: (help page link inserted here)

Once again, we are very sorry for the problem this may have caused to you. I appreciate your understanding and cooperation with us in this matter. Thank you for your patience, and thanks for contacting us at Amazon.com. Please let us know if this e-mail resolved your question:

If yes, click here: ("yes" link inserted here)

If not, click here: ("no" link inserted here)

Please note: this e-mail was sent from an address that cannot accept incoming e-mail. To contact us about an unrelated issue, please visit the Help section of our web site.

Best regards, Neha Garg
Amazon.com Customer Service

I will have to study the above to figure out what Neha Garg is really saying; it sounds to me like this has been partly constructed from canned responses, and partly by an individual writer, but I can't tell for sure. I think the operative phrase is "Our information is limited to what the publishers and manufacturers supply to us; this information appears on our Web site" so this is what I will focus on in my follow up.

I guess I'm a bit disappointed by this response; I am a tried and true customer of Amazon's --  I even bought my lawn mower from them last year, so I was expecting something a bit more responsive.

I tried again on 7/25/05 to geta reponse, which was received in less than 24 hours!

BMG Music Service


On June 19 I sent this email to BMG Music Service, from whom I have purchased many music CD's in the past:

I have read about the crippling of certain CDs by major labels to prevent certain types of copying (e.g use of files on iPods). I need to know which of the CDs you sell have such features that tend to reduce the value of the CDs to me and my subsequent use (I do not share music but do move files around a variety of computers and systems I own). I believe such CDs, because they are less useful, should be significantly discounted, for example.

Dennis McDonald member since 1997
http://ddmcd.squarespace.com/index/

ps - general announcements are useless -- you need to say specifically which CDs have been crippled so I can decide whether or not I want to buy the CDs.
As of 6/23/2005, I had not received a response to the above inquiry. I sent another inquiry on 6/23/05, and I did receive a response (an automated one, though):
From: BMG Jazz Club <bmgmusic@bmgmusicservice.com> To: DDMCD@MINDSPRING.COM Subject: Web Site Issues - General Feedback - Confirmation Thanks for contacting us. We've received your email and will handle your request as quickly as possible. We will contact you only if we need additional information. (Changes to your account history may take up to four business days to be posted - possibly longer during holidays or other peak periods.) If you have additional questions visit our Help page at any time to see our Frequently Asked Questions at the following URL: http://www.bmgmusic.com/customer_service/ If you need to follow up with customer service about the same issue please use the same customer service form you used with your original inquiry. This will allow for more efficient handling of your request. Please do not reply to this email.
On 6/24/05 I did receive a response from BMG Music Service:
I am writing to share some information with you. Regrettably, we are unable to provide a list of copy protected selections. Some record labels/copyright holders have recently begun to add Anti- Piracy Protection Software to the music they produce. Please be aware that the decision to add this type of software is made by the record labels/copyright holders, and not by BMG Music Service Club.

If you should ever receive product you are unhappy with, you may return it to us within 30 days of receipt. Please return any unwanted selections to the following address. Be sure to include your name, address and account number on the package. BMG Jazz Club P.O. BOX 19004 Greenville, SC 29698-9004 If the package is unopened, you may write "Refused - Return To Sender" across the front and the shipment will be returned at our expense. Please don't worry. We'll remove the charges for the unwanted shipment from your account as soon as we receive the return. It is a pleasure to be of assistance. Your Friends at BMG Jazz Club
This is the response that I sent back:
Dear BMG: Thank you for responding to my email. I have some follow up questions. According to your response, "Regrettably, we are unable to provide a list of copy protected selections." I am interested in finding out WHY you are unable to provide such information, since one of the companies that has announced this practice is BMG (for example, here is a link to a Reuters news report about this: http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml?type=musicNews&storyID=8637014.
Are you saying that BMG is unwilling to provide BMG Music Service with this information?

This seems odd given BMG's public announcements. Or, has BMG Music Service made the decision not to pass such information along to BMG Music Service customers?

This would, I admit, add to your processing expenses since it would require that you provide and update another database field in your master database and another field to display in you print catalogs and in your web pages. I understand the impact this would have on your software, databases, and business processes -- but I also know such impacts are manageable.

However, if you have made the decision to publish CD's that are less useful to your customers, shouldn't you, in order to provide a useful service, tell your customers in advance about such product features? If you intend to sell CD's that cannot be transferred to iPods, for example, shouldn't you tell iPod owners that that is your intent?

Thank you for your response. As someone who has spent hundred of dollars in the past with BMG Music Service, I would like to continue to purchase products from you, but I do not intend to purchase products that I cannot use, and I would prefer to know if I can use a product BEFORE I buy it, not AFTER. This seems to be a reasonable request, in my opinion, so I am, again, puzzled by your comment "Regrettably, we are unable to provide a list of copy protected selections."
As of 7/6/05 I had not received an answer to the above email, but I did receive an email from BMG reporting that I had two CD's in my "shopping cart" and asked if I wanted to take advantage of a special offer to buy them. I responded as follows:
Since I have no way of telling if these CDs can be used with an iPod, please delete them from my cart.
Here is the response I received  on 7/8/05 to the above email:
We've received your email and will handle your request as quickly as possible. You may obtain updated shipment and other account information on our website at any time. 1. Please visit: http://www.bmgmusic.com 2. Login into your account (If you have not previously logged in to our website you will need your account number) 3. Click on MyAccount at the top of the left side navigation bar Thank you, BMG Music Service
As of 7/26/05 the two CD's were still in my shopping cart.

I have also tried to contact the BMG/Sony classical music division but the email address listed on their web site does not work.

UPDATE AUGUST 5, 2005

BMG Music Services is listing the new Foo Fighters album for sale, "In Your Honor," but, unlike Amazon.com, BMG Music Services does not say whether or not it is copy protected.

At the bottom of the BMG Music Services online listing for "In Your Honor" is a note that portions of the information about individual albums that BMG publishes are from All Music Guide LLC.

When you register with the All Music Guide on its web site and search for this Foo Fighters album, the write-up says this:
[In Your Honor was released in two editions: a copy-protected CD that will not play on your computer without installing a separate media player, and a DualDisc, containing a CD on one side and a DVD on the other. The DualDisc has a 5.1 mix version of the album on the DVD side, along with a very informative and entertaining documentary about the making of the album, tracing it from pre-production through the construction of a studio and to the recording of the two albums. The CD side of the DualDisc may not register on some computers.]

Overstock.com


On 6/29/05 I sent an email to Overstock.com that is essentially the same as the one I sent to Amazon.com.

As of 7/27/05 I have not received a response from Overstock.com. I have emailed customer support another message:
How can I tell in advance whether a music CD you have in your online catalog will play on an iPod or my PC?
PS - I am asking since BMG and Sony have announced use of copy protection technology that would render their music CDs useless to me. I am stopping purchase of music CD's till I am assured I can play the CDs I buy.

Overstock has responded to this email.

Musical Heritage Society


This is the email I sent Musical Heritage Society on 7/7/05:
I am surveying the online companies I buy audio CD's from, and publishing the results on my blog:

 http://ddmcd.squarespace.com/living-with-technology/2005/6/19/bmg-music-service-and-crippled-cds.html

I am trying to find out which companies are selling copy-protected audio CD's and, more specifically, which companies identify such CD's in advance so prospective purchasers will know which CD's have copy protection features that may prevent certain types of legal copying (e.g., BMG and Sony's recent announcement).

My interest is primarily personal. While I do not share CD's I purchase with others, I am concerned that certain types of copy protection will prevent my copying tracks from a purchased CD onto, say, an Apple iPod, as is the case with certain types of copy protection. Naturally, I would want to know about such "crippling" features in advance so that I can avoid such purchases; why buy something I cannot use?

As I have purchased many records and CD's from MHS in the past, I am very interested in learning your views on this, and I will be happy to publish your response.
As of 7/26/05 I had not received a response from Musical Heritage Society so I sent them another email:
Will Musical Heritage Society CDs transfer to Apple iPods and PC's? I have read that companies like BMG and Sony are publishing CDs with "copy protection" software that prevents their use on iPods and PC's yet the other online vendors I use --- Amazon.com, Overstock.com, and BMG Music Services --- cannot tell me or are unable to provide information on the copy protection status of individual titles.
I would appreciate your letting me know your policy on this. I am considering stopping further purchases of music CD's since I rarely use standalone CD players and primarily use iTunes and PC's for music CD playback. I can't afford to be buying products that I can't use.
MHS has responded and I am seeking clarification.

IFPI Publishes CD Piracy Report

Dissection of a Life Insurance Company's "Privacy Policy" Letter