Digital Audio Tape (DAT) (part 6)
DAT has really put the wind up the record companies because they see it as a way of producing an infinite number of exact digital clones of a compact disc recording, so they have done their very best to stifle the introduction of DAT onto the domestic market, with a good deal of success. On the other side of the fence, the manufacturers of equipment which many people are going to use to make illegal copies of copyright material have given way and are fitting their DAT machines for domestic consumption with something called Serial Copy Management System, or SCMS for short. To cut a long story down to size, what this does is to allow you to make one copy of any existing recording onto DAT, but then you will find you are not able to copy that DAT further, at least not digitally. It is hoped that this will prevent copies from propagating any further than the owner of the DAT machine in question. Of course, this isnt going to make any difference to the record companies because its not personal copying that is damaging sales - the people who do the copying are the people who like music and either buy the records themselves or at least support a musical culture that promotes record buying. The pirate record and cassette producers, who make illegal copies by the barrowload and sell them wherever they can, will not give two hoots about making their multiple copies either with a bank of machines, or via the analogue inputs which cant detect the SCMS flag.
The record companys entire thesis is that the people who will become DAT owners are people who will damage their sales figures by copying their products. So where does the home recordist fit into all this? Not very well, Im afraid, because SCMS will think that any music passing from the output of your mixing console into your DAT recorder is somebody elses copyright - not yours - and that somebody else has not given permission to copy. You will get one recording onto DAT, but when you borrow your friends machine to make a back up, you will find that it will not record. SCMS may think that it is protecting some imaginary record companys rights, but it is INFRINGING your right to make as many digital clones of your own music as you like.
In conclusion, DAT is good and there should be more of it about. Its streets ahead of analogue tape on sound quality and once you have it, youll wonder how you ever did without. But any of the forthcoming crop of domestic machines with the SCMS system are not as suitable for mastering as they should be. I would imagine that the choice will eventually be between an inexpensive domestic machine with SCMS, or an expensive professional machine without. Or perhaps SCMS will kill the idea of low cost DAT entirely. Is that what the manufacturers want? Perhaps we should be thinking of st arting an anti-SCMS lobby right now. Are you ready to stand up and be counted?