LONDON, May 1 (Reuters) - Universal Music is intalks with its best-selling rap artist Eminem to deploy copyprotection technology on all upcoming CD releases of "The EminemShow," marking the biggest move yet to protect its top acts frommusic piracy, a label official told Reuters on Wednesday.
Discussions are under way between Universal, a division ofFrench media conglomerate Vivendi Universal, Eminem and hisUniversal-owned label Interscope Records to make the anticipatedtop-selling release copy proof, thwarting the industry's biggestconcern -- piracy.
Universal and Eminem would need to strike an agreement onwhether or not to release the security-enhanced CDs in the next twoweeks to meet manufacturing deadlines for the June 3 release dateoutside the United States, a Universal spokesman said.
If approved, it would be the most significant new music releaseto come embedded with copy-proof technology, a new innovationadopted by the major labels to thwart the rampant rise of consumerpiracy, which they claim is hurting CD sales.
In a related move, Universal is also closely monitoring thecirculation of Eminem's first single "Without Me," the companysaid. The number of promotional copies, ordinarily delivered toradio stations and the media, has been limited to ensure it doesn'tfall into the wrong hands.
Labels have been particularly sensitive about distribution ofpre-release copies lately. Last month, tracks from British rockband Oasis's new CD "Heathen Chemistry" were leaked on to theInternet.
Eminem's 2000 release "The Marshall Mathers LP" sold 17 millioncopies, and the controversial American rap artist's new album istipped to be one of 2002's top-sellers.
Copy-protection technologies, however, have stirred controversysince their introduction into the market late last year.
Consumers have objected to the new technology saying it onlyallows them to play the CDs on home stereos -- the discs do notplay on PCs, most portable devices, and in some cases, in carstereo systems.
Until now, the technology has been confined to releases inselect geographic markets. It's never been deployed for a globalrelease or for an artist with the immense following of Eminem,setting the stage for the label's biggest PR battle yet in itsfight against music piracy and rampant CD burning.
"Clearly, we will have a better sense of how the market feelsabout copy-protection when a release of Eminem's stature, should wedecide to do it, comes with copy-protection on it," said AdamWhite, Universal Music International spokesman in London.
"Mass-copying has gotten to such a level that we had better takea stand to protect the artists," he added.
The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry(IFPI), an industry trade body, said global music sales fell byfive percent in 2001, hurt particularly hard by the rise of CDburning and Internet song-sharing sites.
"RIP, MIX, BURN"
Universal, along with Sony Music, has been at the forefront ofcopy protection tactics.
Over Christmas, Universal released two million copy-protectedCDs in Germany, but kept the technology confined to non-blockbusteralbums.
Sony Music Europe has taken the most aggressive anti-piracystance in the business. Since last fall, the label has shipped 11million copy-protected CDs in Europe, with the largest percentagegoing to Germany, the world's fourth largest national musicmarket.
New Sony releases for Celine Dion, Shakira and the re-mixedreleases of Destiny's Child and Jennifer Lopez in Germany and otherparts of Europe now carry Sony's copy-protection technology, knownas "Key2audio."
The objective of anti-piracy measures is to target the so-called"rip, mix, burn" culture of young music fans. The technologyprevents the music from being "ripped," or transformed into an MP3file, stored on a computer, and then "burned" (copied) on to ablank CD or DVD.
Industry reports reveal that computer users swap billions oftracks for free over peer-to-peer online services such as MorpheusMusic City and Kazaa, while the trade in bootleg music CDs hasgrown too.
Universal uses technology developed by Israeli firm Midbar TechLtd. The labels have acknowledged that the copy-proof technologiescurrently in use need improvement, adding that future versionsshould permit consumers more playback freedoms.