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illus flag Norway - Luna Kafé - Full Moon 7 - 05/22/97

Akers Mic's
IFPI-approved copy protection

"Information wants to be free" is a slogan you are likely to encounter on the more anarchic frontiers of the Net, confronting commercial interests that restrain the free float of information in order to make a profit. Depending on the information provided, such attempts can be both understandable and sensible. On the other hand, marketing rage may obstruct reflection and result in strange behaviour. Here is an example of unnecessary information branding, implemented on scanned images in a way that in my opinion degrades both the artistic and aesthetic value of the scans.

Akers Mic is branding cover-pix with their corporate logo
coverpic Akers Mic is Norwegian's largest recorded music retailer, and has its entire catalog available online. This also includes an impressive amount (60.000+) of scanned images of CD-covers, making the catalog more interesting and pleasing for the users. But in order to prevent re-use of the pictures, Akers Mic has decided to brand all the scans with their corporate logo. As an illustration of how this is done, I have included their cover scan of The Beatles' record Abbey Road (courtesy of Akers Mic). I am pretty sure nobody else than Akers Mic thinks it's nice to see their logo branded onto record covers like this.

Is Akers Mic infringing the copyright laws?
In order to protect their scans, Akers Mic alters the original cover art, which is protected by copyright laws. A fine paradox. Like everybody else, Akers Mic must have permission from the copyright owners to display the cover-pix, who in this case probably would be the artist or the record label. To brand the scans, they need an additional specific permission, because altering a copyrighted work of art without the artist's consent, would surely be an infringement of copyright laws? I would not publicly accuse Akers Mic of breaking the law, but it seems to me that they are wading in muddy waters, at best.

IFPI Norway has approved Akers Mic's copy protection
Although the law aspect is debatable, it is more interesting to look for any logical reasons for Akers Mic to do this. According to Akers Mic, the international labels in Norway (through their organization IFPI Norway - International Federation of the Phonographic Industry) initially reacted very negatively towards Akers Mic's plans to publish scanned images of CD-covers on the Net, but were in the end pleased when reassured that the scans would be branded with the Akers Mic logo. I have difficulties with understanding why the record labels should approve of this kind of advertising, but then again, Akers Mic is the largest CD-retailer in Norway.

Akers Mic's copy protection is unique, but is it wise?
Akers Mic's way of branding cover-pix seems to be unique. I have never seen anything similar, anywhere on the Net. Several other online catalogs (for instance CDWorld and Music Boulevard) include cover scans, but they are all unmarked. Of course, Akers Mic has done a lot of scanning work, and it's understandable that they are worried about someone else taking advantage of their scans, but is their chosen way of copy protection a smart one? A BYTE article concludes that digital watermarking is the best way to protect images from illicit copying, a technique which is invisible.

Is re-use of cover-pix considered a threat by anybody else?
Anyone publishing a down-loaded scan of a record cover should ask for permission, and give credit to the source. It is in my experience easy to receive such permission from both online CD-retailers and other sites. Any unaltered display of a cover-pic is probably seen upon as free advertisement by both artists and labels, and even by record retailers, who perhaps get links back to their catalog. I have never heard of an artist or a label accusing anyone of copyright infringement for displaying cover-pix on their pages without permission. "Oasis Webmasters for Internet Freedom" are participating in an interesting debate on this and related issues.

Tell Akers Mic what you think - they care a lot!
Akers Mic is inviting feedback from people visiting their site, be it positive or negative. If you have an opinion on their policy of branding the cover-pix, you may tell them by sending a mail to

Editor's note, March 14th 2002: Akers Mic have grown up, gotten their own domain name, and obviously decided to stop branding their CD cover images ...
I guess that's Luna Kafé - Akers Mic 1-0 ... :-)

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