Universal Music Group is preparing to apply copyright-protection technology that will prevent consumers from playing legally purchased CDs on the CD players inside Macs and PCs.

The company is preparing to use Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology called Cactus Data Shield, developed by Midbar Tech, a source claims.

This technology would be used to scramble data on audio CDs so that PC CD drives cannot play them. It's expected to appear on at least one new CD release from Universal before year's end, with production ramping up after that.

Legal use Consumer rights groups, such as the Campaign for Digital Rights, are concerned that it's only a matter of time before major music-concerns apply such technology as a matter of course, preventing consumers from playing legally bought CDs on their own computers.

It's possible the companies will do this without warning, and with no price change to reflect the decreased utility of their products, the groups claim.

Large software and hardware producers - such as Apple and Microsoft, as well as consumers - could be caught out by the move. Apple is making headway in the industry, spearheading use of personal computers as "digital hubs". Applying such copy protection could lessen the usefulness of applications such as iTunes, and products such as the recently launched iPod.

Copyright exploration "Universal Music Group has been undergoing extensive exploration and technical evaluation of a variety of technologies designed to prevent the growing problem of CD copying and duplication. UMG will be implementing copy protection on a number of releases starting in the fourth quarter of 2001," parent company, Vivendi said.

According to the source, there is still wrangling over the final decision to issue copy-protected CDs, with a "pretty big faction" within Universal arguing the technology should be dropped because they believe it will be cracked immediately. Despite this, instructions to apply such protection are coming from the top of the company.

The Cactus Data Shield includes proprietary electronic circuits and software algorithms for encoding digital content, which alters the information on the CD in "several ways while maintaining perfect audio quality", according to Midbar Tech's Web site.

The copy-protected CDs are also potentially an issue for subscription digital-music service Pressplay, the joint venture between Vivendi Universal and Sony Music Entertainment that is expected to launch by December.

To avoid derailing its new digital-music service, the source said, Universal is considering creating audio files especially for Pressplay. These files would use a DRM scheme that would allow Pressplay subscribers to download and play them on computers.