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 isn’t going
to make any difference to the record companies because it’s 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 can’t detect the SCMS flag.
The record company’s 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, I’m
afraid, because SCMS will think that any music passing from the output of your
mixing console into your DAT recorder is somebody else’s 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 friend’s
machine to make a back up, you will find that it will not record. SCMS may think
that it is protecting some imaginary record company’s rights, but it is
INFRINGING your right to make as many digital clones of your own music as you
In conclusion, DAT is good and there should be more of it about. It’s
streets ahead of analogue tape on sound quality and once you have it, you’ll
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?