AT LARGE:Two-face the music

AT LARGE:Two-face the music

Sony Corporation is one of the world's biggest companies, with interests in computers, consumer electronics, music, video games and a whole heap of other stuff we don't hear too much about, like banking for instance.

Whenever an organisation reaches the size and scope of Sony, you expect it to have one or two conflicts of interest. But Sony seems to be an extreme case. I wonder if it has become completely schizophrenic.

To wit: Sony Music has recently begun marketing in Europe music discs that contain additional software that "locks" the audio files and prevents them being copied or turned into MP3s on computers. (Because such additional software varies from the specifications of the Compact Disc Digital Audio standard, Sony is not allowed to call the protected discs "CDs".)Consumer reaction to the move only began after Celine Dion's latest offering was copy-protected for her European fans. Now don't get me wrong - I'm all in favour of any move that prevents the proliferation of Celine Dion. But this isn't about my tastes, it's about Sony shooting itself in the foot.

To wit: I attended a launch recently for Sony Electronics' NetMD. In the likely event that you're unfamiliar with Mini-Disc, it's like a small, recordable CD in a plastic case. You can record your CDs directly to a Mini-Disc deck, provided you have the appropriate connectors on your audio system (ay, there's the rub), and you get an almost CD-quality copy.

NetMD opens the Mini-Disc standard up by allowing you to record audio tracks from your computer over a USB connection. Simply pop a CD into the drive, rip the songs into Sony's proprietary ATRAC format and "check" them to your NetMD deck. You can "check" a song only three times. You can also "check" MP3 files that you download from the Internet. All up, it looks almost like Sony embracing digital distribution of music and consumers' rights to manage their own music collections.

Here's the punchline: the copy protection that Sony Music is experimenting with will not merely fail to work on a computer, it will crash your computer. Take a Sony NetMD deck, hook it up to your Sony Vaio, pop in a Sony-manufactured music disc and your system will grind to a halt.

Incredulous, I asked a Sony rep about this at the launch. He said there "isn't a lot of communication" between the various branches of the company. This much is apparent.

What else is apparent is that Sony needs to decide between having a successful Mini-Disc format or locking its music properties. Could someone perhaps suggest a good therapist?

Matthew JC. Powell's heart will go on. Send libellous remarks about Celine Dion to

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