wikiHow to Copy Protected Cds

This guide explains how to copy music CDs that are copy-protected with ‘copy control technology.’ You need a PC with Windows XP and a CD writer. The guide also discusses why you would want to do this and whether it is legal or not.

This approach has worked on all of the (relatively few) copy-protected music CDs that I have tried. However, there are different types of copy protection, and I don't know if it works on all of them. It will only work on music CDs and not on (for example) game CDs. I have only used this approach with Windows XP, but there's a good chance it will work with other versions of Windows also.

Using this guide is intended to be pretty straightforward, but if you're having problems, there's a section on troubleshooting at the end. There's also some thoughts on what to do about this problem in the long term, and a section with links to online resources that you might find helpful.


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    Step 0: Is This Legal?
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    In short, I don't know if it's legal or not, but consider the following. After buying a music CD called 80s Alternative: The Darker Side of the Decade for €9.99 in Tower Records in Dublin, I discovered that it only played in two of the four CD players I use on a regular basis:
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    A Discman from Sony [the CD worked fine on this]
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    A Wall-Mounted CD Player from Muji [the CD worked fine on this]
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    A DP-470 DVD Player from Kiss Technology [the CD didn't work on this]
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    My Linux box from Dell [the CD did not work on this either]
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    It turned out the CD contained ‘copy control technology,’ which prevented it from working on the players listed above. In all fairness, the CD was clearly marked ‘COPY CONTROLLED’ but I failed to notice this when I picked it up. I buy CDs quite often but I find they are actually quite resistant to scratches, so I rarely make copies. However, it was a problem that the 80s Alternative CD only worked in two of the four players. Also, the songs couldn't be MP3-encoded.
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    To solve this problem, I created a copy of the CD as described here. The copy plays in all of the four players listed above, and will also allow the songs to be MP3-encoded. In short, the copy is a completely normal audio CD. Since creating the copy, I haven't taken the original out of its case, except to write this guide.
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    Because I don't usually copy CDs, I found it a little ironic that the ‘copy control technology’ required me to make a copy of the album in order to use it. Since my experience with the 80s Alternative album, I have bought many other CDs, and the ones with copy control technology are the only ones I have copied. To figure out whether this was legal or not, I wrote an open letter to EMI, who are the publishers of the 80s Alternative album. In the letter, I pointed out this paradoxical situation and asked EMI if they would consider what I had done fair use of the album. I also sent the letter to a couple of newspapers, but I don't think they published it. All of this was in March 2004. As of February 2008, I have still to hear from EMI, but I will update this page with details as soon as they get back to me.
  10. 10
    In the meantime, I hope this guide will help people who are in a similar situation. Until I hear from EMI, I suggest you make up your own mind about whether you think following these instructions is legal or not.
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    Step 1: Download IsoBuster
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    The first step is to download and install IsoBuster, a program used to salvage data from damaged CDs and DVDs. IsoBuster is a commercial program, but you can run it in freeware mode, where it has limited functionality, which is fine for our purposes. I used IsoBuster 1.6 for this guide.
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    Step 2: Create a Folder for the Audio Tracks
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    The idea is to use IsoBuster to extract the hidden audio tracks from the protected CD and burn them to a normal CD, so the first thing to do is create a folder somewhere to store the audio tracks. I suggest your Windows desktop.
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    Step 3: Open the Copy-Protected CD with IsoBuster
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    First, start up IsoBuster and hold down your shift key while inserting your copy-protected CD.
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    I recommend that you hold down the shift key because it blocks the Windows ‘autorun’ feature, i.e., prevents the CD from launching programs automatically. The reason this is necessary is that some copy-protected CDs (for example Contraband by Velvet Revolver) automatically install suspicious Windows drivers, which people have reported cause problems when you later want to play normal CDs. If you don't want to hold down the shift key every time you insert a copy-protected CD, there is also a way to disable autorun altogether.
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    After inserting the CD, you should now see something like the following:
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    As you can see, the CD has two sessions, unlike a normal audio CD, which only has one. The actual audio tracks are stored in session 1. Session 2 contains files, which are used when you insert the CD into a Windows box or a Macintosh. For our purposes we are only interested in the audio tracks, so we'll ignore session 2 completely.
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    To get at the audio tracks with IsoBuster, click on session 1 on the left in the IsoBuster window. You should now see the audio tracks displayed on the right:
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    Step 4: Extract the Audio Tracks
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    Use your mouse to mark all the audio tracks in the right part of the window, then right click and choose ‘Extract Objects’ from the menu:
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    IsoBuster will ask you for a destination directory; choose the one you created previously:
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    Now wait for the files to copy...
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    When the copy has finished, you can shut down IsoBuster.
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    Step 5: Burn the Audio Tracks onto a Blank CD
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    Now open your favourite CD burning software and use it to create an Audio CD. Drag the tracks from the folder where IsoBuster placed them into your Audio CD project, make sure they appear in the right order, and then burn. When you are finished, the resulting CD will contain all the tracks from the original copy-protected CD, but in a non-protected format. It should play on all players and can be MP3-encoded for use on your portable MP3 player.
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  • Troubleshooting
  • As per January 2005, people have reported that the approach described here generally seems to work well, but that they've been somewhat more successful with newer hardware than older hardware. Therefore, if you have problems copying a given CD, you may want to try a PC with a relatively new CDROM drive.
  • Also, if you're having problems, it sometimes helps to eject the CD and reinsert it again, so you may want to try this a couple of times also. One person reported that he had to do this six times with his setup before he could extract the audio tracks, but that it did work in the end.
  • People have also reported that a freeware Windows program called Audiograbber can be used to extract the audio tracks from copy-protected music CDs, so if the approach described here doesn't work for you, you may want to try that instead.
  • Pierre van Male has sent me the following instructions for how to copy a protected CD on Linux:
  • I first created an ISO image with K3b, the CD burner of KDE. Then looking in the .TMP files created (with the idea to mount the iso file and to find the hidden CD session), I found the Trackxx.wav files. I reopened K3b and browsing the tmp folder, I found out I could directly burn them on a blank CD. Done, then ripped in .ogg format to be added to my Music folder.


  • So what to do? I don't really want to stop buying music, and I don't really want to see artists getting caught in this loop. My current decision is therefore to keep buying CDs, but generally to stay away from the big labels and instead track down smaller bands that release their CDs in normal format. I have found a lot of interesting new music this way, for example Robin Bank$ Blues Band and loads of bands from Epitonic and Projekt. Admittedly, it is more work to find and screen bands this way, but as a result my CD collection is a lot more eclectic (and quite a bit more interesting) than it was just a few years ago. On the other hand, it means I don't get to listen to bands like Delerium or The Divine Comedy, whose music I would normally have been one of the first to pick up. But I guess you can't win all the time.
  • It seems to me we're well locked in a vicious circle at the moment. The labels (and some of the artists) are worried that people are getting their music illegally off the Internet. As a result, they are putting increasingly draconian copy protection technology onto the CDs that are being sold in the shops and online. The problem with this is of course that the people affected by this are the ones who actually buy music, not the ones who don't.
  • What to do in the long term?
  • At the moment, I have chosen to generally avoid CDs that are protected with any sort of copy-control technology. As I hope this page makes clear, this is not because I necessarily want to make copies, but because the copy-controlled CDs only work in half of the players I use. The problem with this decision is of course that if enough people refuse to buy copy-protected CDs, music sales are going to drop as more and more music is released in this format. And when the sales figures drop, the labels will probably conclude that online piracy (not draconian copy-protection) is to fault, and I wouldn't be surprised if they introduced even more problematic copy-protection mechanisms as a result. Hence, a vicious circle.

Sources and Citations

  • links: the Campaign for Digital Rights (CDR) hosts a comprehensive index of copy-protected CDs.
  • Alex Halderman has written a good article that explores dodgy copy protection (especially those with Trojan Windows drivers) in more detail.
  • The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has a page that describes how copy-protected CDs are marked in the US.

Article Info

Categories: Audio | Music