[JPL] To Be Owned By Sony

jturton at comcast.net jturton at comcast.net
Fri Nov 18 11:23:52 EST 2005


More from David Pogue in the Times yesterday


1. From the Desk of David Pogue: A Record Turnaround
=============================================================

The public has spoken! Power to the people! The masses smote 
the faceless monolithic corporate entity, which now cowers in 
shame!

I'm speaking, of course, about the spectacular turnaround in 
the attitude of Sony BMG records. Last week, I wrote in this 
space about the nasty copy-protection software that the 
company installed on several dozen of its music CD's. Stick 
one of those puppies in your Windows computer (Macs are 
immune), and you get yourself an invisible "rootkit" program 
that runs in the background without your knowledge, and even 
serves as a theoretical hiding place for viruses.

As I mentioned last week, the record company was shockingly 
unrepentant at first. No apology was forthcoming-only, with 
prodding, "We understand what the concern was." And no action 
was forthcoming, either, except to post a patch that makes 
the invisible copy-protection program visible again, so that 
antivirus software could see it.

But since my last report, the story unraveled with 
breathtaking speed. Within days, two ACTUAL viruses emerged, 
each designed to take advantage of Sony BMG's little 
backdoor. The outcry online rose to deafening levels, 
spreading from ordinary citizens to university professors, 
software companies and the Electronic Frontier Foundation 
(www.eff.org).

Finally, Sony BMG cried uncle. The company had already 
announced that it would no longer use the rootkit method of 
copy-protecting its CD's. Next, it announced that it would 
stop shipping all of the existing albums that included the 
software, and even remove the 3 million discs already on 
store shelves. 

Then it went even farther, and actually recalled the 2 
million rootkit discs that had already been sold-a costly 
move. If you bought one of these albums, Sony BMG will 
exchange it for the same CD minus the nasty software; 
shipping will be free both ways. Details, along with an 
uninstaller, will be posted at www.sonybmg.com.

Finally, there was, yes, a belated but strong apology. "We 
deeply regret any inconvenience this may cause our customers 
and we are committed to making this situation right," says a 
letter on its Web site.

Overall, Sony's general incompetence when it comes to digital 
music boggles the mind. First there was its "iPod killer" 
music players, which were initially released without the 
ability to play a little file format called MP3. Then there 
was its disastrous Connect music store, whose design was so 
wasteful of screen space it was almost unusable. And now the 
astonishing move to copy-protect all of its music CD's-
ironically, in some cases, over the strident objections of 
the actual bands-with software that behaves like spyware.

In any case, readers have flooded my mailbox all week with 
questions and comments. Here's a sampling, some with my 
responses added.

* "Is there a list of the affected CD's somewhere?"

There's a partial list at 
http://www.eff.org/deeplinks/archives/004144.php. Sony 
initially refused to identify the complete list, but now says 
that it will post the list on its Web site soon. Meanwhile, 
you can tell if your CD has the rootkit protection by looking 
at the back. If you see a black and white table called 
"Compatible With," it's copy-protected; if the Web address at 
the bottom of table ends with XCP, it's protected using the 
rootkit method.

* Angry consumers took their unhappiness directly to other 
consumers, using public arenas like the Amazon customer 
reviews for the affected albums: "I was so looking forward to 
the release of this album. But as a matter of principle, I 
will NOT purchase it. I sincerely hope that the disc buying 
public boycotts this and every disc that contains a copyright 
virus on it."

Don't be surprised if Sony BMG sees a dip in sales as a 
result of its newly publicized copy-protection tactics. Also 
don't be surprised if its executives learn exactly the wrong 
lesson: "CD sales have slipped some more! Must be those 
darned music pirates. Full speed ahead with the aggressive 
copy protection!"

* "David, the copyright watchdog application runs all the 
time, and eats up a percent or so of your processing 
capability. Other security watchdogs also run in the 
background all the time, and they steal CPU power, too.

"If you get stuck with several of these little beasts, your 
expensive computer will start to run slowly. Molasses-like 
slowly. A court of law would find that the vendors do not 
have the right to slow your computer down for their sole 
benefit."

* "Sony, please note: There is no right way to do a wrong 
thing. Wrong is wrong. When you are wrong, say you are SORRY 
and promise not to do it again."

This time, at least, the people won. It's amazing what the 
Internet makes possible when enough people get angry enough.

But why stop here? Now let's solve the spam problem, catch 
the virus writers and force the big electronics companies to 
settle on a single format for high-definition DVD players...


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