Myth of CD immortality is starting to rot away

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WHEN they first appeared in the late 1980s, CDs were hailed as an almost indestructible form of storing music.

But to the dismay of rock fans, recordings by artists such as Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie and Pink Floyd have begun to suffer from CD rot.

Music fans may not notice at first when little red spots and scratches start appearing at the edge of the shiny discs.

But when they try to listen to their favourite album they will find the CD skips, jumps or is completely unplayable.

"I don’t understand how plastic and metal can rot," said Sarah Hopkin of Edinburgh, who said she was disappointed to hear that her extensive CD collection may not last forever.

"I remember when CDs first came out, Tomorrow’s World said they were indestructible and you could cover them in jam. Now it seems that’s not true.

"I still listen to vinyl and I still buy tapes but I’m very surprised to find out my CD collection might start rotting."

CD rot occurs when the wrong type of lacquer has been used on the printed side of the disc, or the lacquer has been incorrectly applied. Over time the lacquer reacts with the ink on the printed sleeve and begins to corrode.

According to industry experts, CD rot, also called CD bronzing, is most common on discs made in the late Eighties. Because a certain lacquer used in the label reacts to the chemicals in the disc booklet, some CDs made at this time are subject to oxidisation, which causes aluminium erosion.

Those who were among the first to buy CDs are now discovering that their supposedly indestructible silver discs have now become unplayable.

Among the problem discs are recordings by Big Audio Dynamite, Julian Cope, Laurie Anderson and Gary Numan. A number of classical recordings are also believed to be affected.

"I have had this with one or two of my own CDs," said Tim Keppie, of Hogs Head Records in Edinburgh. "It only seems to affect the ones which were made 15 to 20 years ago.

"Most of the CDs made nowadays are OK, but you have to take care of them. You have to treat them the way you treat a record."

Although industry sources claim it is an isolated problem, the experience of one American music fan suggests that CD rot may be more widespread than originally believed.

Dan Koster, a web designer, said that about 15 per cent of his 2,000-strong collection has begun to exhibit some degree of rot.

He uncovered the problem when he held a CD which was skipping badly up to the light, and realised the aluminium layer had become perforated.

"I was kind of shocked to see a constellation of pinpricks, little points where the light was coming through the aluminium layer," he told the Washington Post.

"We were all told that CDs were well-nigh indestructible when they were introduced in the mid-Eighties. Companies used that in part to justify the higher price of CDs as well."

Manufacturers say the discs are built to last 50 to 100 years, but as they were only invented in the 1980s nobody is really sure how long recorded data will last.

Most industry specialists still believe CDs are a good way of storing music and that with proper handling they should last well.

Jerry Hartke, who runs a CD-testing laboratory, said a lot of problems were caused by bad handling, which scratches the thin layer of lacquer on the printed side of the CD.

"If people treat these discs rather harshly, or stack them, or allow them to rub against each other, this very fragile protective layer can be disturbed, allowing the atmosphere to interact with that aluminium."

Mark Lawson, European director of DivXNetworks, said to be on the safe side music lovers should create back-up copies of their favourite albums. "Although designed to last, DVDs and CDs can get damaged very easily," he said. "Just as people used to tape their vinyl record collections, people should be allowed to back up their DVDs."