A modest proposal for better CD labelling

I haven’t mentioned Sony for about three hours – time for another post!

Kidding aside, copy-protected discs are a real problem: essentially, you’re being mis-sold a product that claims to be one thing but is actually something rather different.

We tend to think of CDs as shiny discs containing music, but Compact Disc actually means something. It’s a global standard, and when you buy a Compact Disc you can expect it to work in any player that supports the standard. In other words, if you buy a CD, you should expect it to work in your car, in a top-of-the-range hi-fi, in a cheap CD player from Asda, in a CD drive on a computer, and so on.

Many copy-protected discs are sold as CDs, but they don’t meet the Compact Disc standard. If a DRM system must be installed before the disc works on your computer, it isn’t a Compact Disc. If there’s deliberate corruption in an attempt to fool computer drives, which can also prevent cheaper players from playing the disc, it isn’t a CD. Manufacturers are wise to this, and if you look at many copy-protected discs you’ll see that the Compact Disc logo is absent. That means they admit it isn’t a Compact Disc, but they’re happy to pretend that it is one so you’ll buy it.

I very much doubt that manufacturers are going to stop making such discs, but if retailers continue to sell non-CDs as if they were real CDs then the consumer is ultimately being screwed. You shouldn’t have to pore through websites or Amazon comments to find out if the CD you’re buying is actually a non-CD, but you do.

The answer’s obvious: mandate a system of clear labelling so consumers know exactly what they’re getting. You should know exactly what you’re getting before you buy a product – and it isn’t exactly difficult. We’ve already got such schemes, including:

CD – Compact Disc Digital Audio. The CD we know and love.
CD-R – a recordable Compact Disc.
CD-RW – the same, but if you use it as a data disc you can re-record again and again.
SA-CD – Super Audio CD. Sony’s ultra-high-fidelity “next-generation” CD.
DVD-Audio – The DVD rival to SACD.

Such labelling is used everywhere, and as a result consumers can spend their money, confident that they’re buying the appropriate format for their needs. So why not introduce a new one? It doesn’t need to be a complex name, just something descriptive such as “Copy Restricted Audio Product”. That way, you know exactly what you’re paying for and the acronym removes any ambiguity.