Thursday, November 17, 2005

Sony in the dog house

After two weeks of public-relations hell, several class-action lawsuits, and the introduction of a virus that takes advantage of its DRM cloaking, Sony/BMG has decided to take its lumps. They have pulled the DRM-infested CDs from store shelves, apologized to their suckers customers, and started a recall. The BBC (includes a partial list of infested titles) and Wired cover the story.

As it turns out, Mac users were not immune to the wiles of Sony DRM. But to load it on a Mac, you would have to open the data image that the CD provides, run the installer, and type an administrator password. Not exactly stealthy.

The last straw may not have been the virus, nor a computer security expert announcing that over 500,000 networks have Sony’s malware installed — but then Microsoft declared it malware and announced that their “Defender” product would find and remove it. When the Evil Empire can score PR points off of you, you know you’re in it ankle-deep-head-first. Some people have opined that Sony broke several computer tampering laws, but huge corporations don’t get prosecuted in Bushworld so that line is not worth pursuing.

But in all the mea culpa and sackcloth, there’s a crucial piece missing — as Arlo Guthrie put it: “Kid, have you rehabilitated yourself?” Sony/BMG admitted the crime and now they’re paying the fine, but confession is not repentance. Indeed, their first attempt to blunt the negative publicity involved announcing they were temporarily suspending use of that particular DRM malware. Sony might even promise to never use the “XCP” copy-protection again, but they have not — and probably will not — swear off all future attempts at DRM.

However, the piracy that Sony (and other RIAA companies) whines about has been around long before the Internet or even the personal computer. I remember swapping cassette tapes with friends back in the early 1970s, basically mixes of our favorite 45s. Technology has simply made swapping music more efficient is all. As I said earlier this month, we fought this copy-protection battle with software companies about 20 years ago. Copy-protection only inconveniences those who want to be honest — indeed, there were pirates back in the 1980s who only traded (formerly) protected titles. Look at it this way: if you knew all new cars were booby-trapped, would you buy one?

Wired suggested a while back that there could well be a way out for a media company with the guts to try it. I expect to see flying pigs first, though.

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