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Weekly AUDIO NEWS for January 22, 2003

Major Labels Forced to Pay Back $67 Million to Some CD Buyers - In a bizarre legal decision, the Attorney General has ordered the major record labels to pay $67,375,000 to consumers who bought discount CDs from certain stores. The court felt that the labels collectively pressured discount outlets to compete less aggressively with larger chains such as Tower, and therefore the consumer should receive the difference between the lower price that he paid and the higher sticker price that he should have paid. (I know, Spock’s eyebrows would rise on this one, but never mind...) It comes to around $20 per buyer and only about 30,000 people have signed up for a share so far so there’s a lot left. In addition, the labels are also to give away about $75 million in free CDs to nonprofit public groups.

CEA Responds to Digital Content Agreement - The Consumer Electronics Association has responded to an agreement announced last week between the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) and two technology trade groups on digital content issues. President Gary Shapiro said in part: “We welcome the RIAA’s apparent opposition to government mandates that would force consumer electronics manufacturers to insert controls into their products which would limit consumers’ home recording and fair use rights...we continue to believe that legislation is required to strike the necessary balance between protecting copyrights and consumers’ fair use rights...”

“Put the CD Out of Its Misery” - is the title of a January 6th Webhead article posted by technology reporter Paul Boutin. He observes that to the new generation of music artists and engineers, the phrase “CD-quality sound” is an ironic joke. He compares the data reduction imposed on hi-res analog or digital masters to release on 44.1K CDs to “filming a movie in IMAX format and then broadcasting it only to black & white TVs.” He’s in favor of the “digital hub” in the home, as proposed by Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and others, but using the highest-resolution 192K/24bit standard. He says SACD and DVD-A have “wandered in like Rip Van Winkle, unaware how behind the times they are.” He pegs them as throwbacks to the pre-PC era despite their high resolution. Says they’re the same size as CDs and the players for them are bulky. Plus they only have analog outputs so far due to the industry fear of hi-res piracy. He claims there won’t be any SACD or DVD-A drives for computers, thereby eliminating their becoming part of the computer AV world.

His point is that it’s no wonder young gearheads who buy the latest and greatest have ignored the new formats for the most part in favor of MP3 players and CD burners - in spite of the poorer sound. (And superior AAC/MP4 is coming.) They are computer-friendly, allow you to archive hundreds of albums on one hard drive, create personalized playlists, carry a pocket-sized portable player smaller than a CD with you, trade and download tunes. Boutin concludes: “Asking these digital consumers to give that power back in exchange for a better-sounding disc is like offering them a phonograph needle.”

CRI Records Has Shut Down - Speaking of the death of the CD, Composers Recordings Inc. - the specialist in new American music since 1954 - is out of business. Some of its catalog will be kept in print by New World Records.

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