CD burning

MediaMax CD-3

MediaMax CD-3 is a software package created by SunnComm and sold as a form of copy protection for compact discs. It is used by the record label RCA Records/BMG, and targets both Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X. Some users regard the software as a form of malware since its purpose is to intercept and inhibit normal computer operation without the user's authorization. MediaMax has received media attention in late 2005 in fallout from the Sony XCP fiasco. See also 2005 Sony BMG CD copy protection scandal.

MediaMax is a second-generation system meant to address the problems of earlier copy-preventing schemes, where many types of playback devices had difficulty reading discs in normal use. MediaMax was first used on Anthony Hamilton's Comin' From Where I'm From in the United States; the first US No. 1 CD to use it was Velvet Revolver's Contraband. (The European release of the Velvet Revolver album used Macrovision CDS-200 and the Japanese is without copy protection.)

Identifying MediaMax discs

Some BMG discs using the scheme have a label affixed to the front that states:

This CD is protected against unauthorized duplication. It is designed to play on standard playback devices and an appropriately configured computer (see system requirements on back). If you have questions or concerns visit

A section on the back of some packages states, in part:

This CD is enhanced with MediaMax software. Windows compatible instructions: Insert disc into CD-ROM drive. Software will automatically install. If it doesn't, click on "LaunchCd.exe." Mac OS instructions: Insert disc into CD-ROM drive. Click on "Start." Usage of the CD on your computer requires your acceptance of the end user license agreement and installation of specific software contained on the CD.

Method of operation

The system uses a normal compact disc format containing an additional data track, so CDs using the MediaMax scheme will work with almost any CD playback device. The "protection" comes from the installation of additional software, and the requirement that the user accept an end user license agreement (EULA). The fatal flaw in the MediaMax system is that if the software isn't installed, or if it is disabled, discs can be duplicated without any trouble.

On computers running Microsoft Windows, the copy protection scheme makes use of the autorun feature of the operating system to a run program named LaunchCd.exe, which installs a device driver that inhibits the ability of other software to directly read data from the disc. Many users disable the autorun feature, since it is a potential (but rarely used) vector for computer viruses and spyware, and therefore do not run the MediaMax software. People who leave it enabled can easily prevent the software from loading by holding down the shift key while inserting the disc. Because of this, the system is largely considered to be ineffectual. In Mac OS X, even if an application can automatically run when the disk is inserted, it can never install anything on the system without administrator's agreement, and this always requires inserting a password. There is no version for Linux or any other operating system.

A particularly controversial feature of MediaMax is that it permanently installs itself onto Windows PCs without the knowledge or consent of the user. It is a fairly common practice for DRM-enabled applications to require users' consent to various DRM provisions via an EULA; without this consent, users are normally unable to use the associated rights-managed software. MediaMax, however, departs from this convention, by operating as follows: When a MediaMax-protected CD is inserted into a Windows PC with AutoRun enabled, an application starts which displays an install dialog with an attendant EULA. The user is informed that they must accept the terms of this EULA to use the CD on their computer, but the DRM software is installed even if they decline, cancel, or terminate the program -- without notice.

Windows PCs with MediaMax installed are identifiable by their having a Windows service installed named "sbcphid." Users who have agreed to the EULA may have a legal obligation to let this software remain on their systems. However, users who declined or did not agree to the EULA have no such obligation. MediaMax's stealth install provides no uninstall option (nor notification that the install happened). However, in contrast to the previous XCP copy protection components used by Sony/BMG, the Windows service that MediaMax installs can be safely and easily stopped, disabled and removed. Users with administrative privileges can accomplish this via Windows' Service Controller ("sc") command line utility (using the "stop" and "delete" arguments), after which MediaMax's driver file (sbcphid.sys) can be deleted from the WindowsSystem32Drivers directory and additional files can be deleted from the Program FilesCommon FilesSunnComm Shared directory.

To determine if MediaMax is installed on a Windows PC, one may launch a command line, from which the Service Controller can be queried. The command to test this is "sc query sbcphid". If installed, "sc stop sbcphid" will halt the service, and "sc delete sbcphid" will prevent it from automatically starting on subsequent reboots. More information about the Microsoft Windows Service Controller utility can be found in the external links below

Once installed, the MediaMax software looks for a watermark inside all raw CD audio to recognize protected content. The watermark works by setting a sequence of low order bit to 1. This makes the watermark very brittle and will be defeated by most transformations of the audio, including converting it to mp3 and back.

When the MediaMax software is functioning as designed, it allows copying to a certain extent. Compressed audio is stored on the disc in Windows Media Audio (WMA) files. The following activities are allowed: Copying tracks to the hard drive for playback without the original CD, burning up to three copies of the CD, and sharing email links to DRM-protected tracks that expire after ten days. Finally, tracks may be downloaded to DRM-enabled portable players.

See also

External links

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