Record companies and manufacturers of stereo equipment have agreed upon a copyright protection plan that will clear the way for the next generation of audio technology to reach the American market. The new recorders, known as digital audio tapes (DAT) machines, are the tape equivalent of compact discs. The results are just as sharp and distortion-free. Unlike compact disc players, however, digital players allow people to record their own tapes as well as play pre-recorded ones. The digital tapes are smaller than audio cassettes.
The preliminary agreement, coming after three years of negotiation, would allow consumers to use digital audio tape machines to make direct digital copies of compact discs. Such copies would be as clear as the original, but the circuitry in the tape machines would prevent the digital copies from being copied again.
Record companies opposed the introduction of digital tape players in the United States because they were afraid that wide-spread copying of compact discs would reduce disc sales. Because of this opposition, manufacturers of digital players have not sold them in this country, though they have been available in Japan and Europe for about two years. Because of the limited distribution, machines have cost over $1,000 and blank tapes have cost an average of $12.99. If the preliminary agreement holds, sales of DAT in the U.S. will begin in 6 to 10 months.