Apple has published information discussing how the music industry’s copy-protection technology can seriously affect Macs.

It’s a problem in which Macs cannot eject copy-protected audio CDs – causing the Mac to start-up with a grey screen.

The company says: “You may be unable to eject certain copy-protected audio discs, which resemble Compact Discs (CD) but technically are not. Some computers start-up to a grey screen after a copy-protected disc has been left in the computer.”

Apple’s article reports that the problem grows if a copy-protected CD is left in a Mac that lacks a manual eject button or pinhole for its optical drive. Its documentation offers instructions for dealing with the problem – which is not covered by Apple’s warranty on new Macs.

Stop the music Major music industry labels want to limit the potential for copyright abuse in the digital age. They believe that making music CD releases unplayable in a computer will hamper attempts to encode music into other formats for digital-distribution. The Napster file-sharing service was a nightmare for the labels, who face declining sales year-on-year as other entertainment media – including gaming, digital TV, and Internet-based pastimes – gather market share.

The labels have been experimenting with copy-protection formats since late 2000 with a variety of different test releases in different territories. The format they employ differs from the CD format; copy protected CDs are usually labelled “will not play on PC/Mac,” though some imported discs are not.

Fighting back Reaction to the music industry’s move to protect its business model and to maintain CD pressing-plant profitability has been critical. The Campaign for Digital Rights notes that Sony is employing the problematic copy-protection technology, and it appears that “this is Sony’s policy for new releases.”

The Campaign for Digital Rights is a group fighting for online freedom of speech, fair use of copyrighted material and honest labelling of copy-protected CDs. The group has the results of tests conducted with copy-protected CDs available on its site.

Consumer groups worldwide complain that customers buying music should retain the right to play their legally owned music on any device they please – so-called “fair use.”

Apple’s solutions include forcing such affected Macs to boot into Mac OS X on restart by holding down command-X on boot; Force-ejecting a CD on boot by holding down the mouse button as the Mac starts up; and for hardcore users, booting into open firmware and using a command-line prompt to force the CD to eject. In extreme cases it may be necessary to take a Mac to an authorized service centre for costly repair. Apple has published a list of affected discs – and noted that the problem is not covered by the warranty agreement.