Sony BMG have really opened a can of worms recently. They’ve annoyed no end of PC users by installing software on people’s computers that circumvents the normal operation of the CD drives in order to prevent illegal copying of albums.
However, they’ve used a “rootkit” to do this surruptitiously. This rootkit cloaks the proprietry software installed on the PC to make it harder for people to either notice it is there at all or to remove it once they become aware of it. There have been reports that have suggested that removal of this software can incapacitate the drives on that machine!
Why Sony have done something so invasive is bizarre. I suppose most PC users will wonder why these CDs will only play in the proprietry player provided with the CD and think nothing else of it. In fact, most people won’t even be aware that Sony have been installing software on their PC that prevent them from using their own PC as they see fit. If I want to rip a CD so that I can play it on my portable player, then I would legitimately expect my PC to be able to do so, however people with these DRM-infested CDs will be unable to do this. Try getting iTunes to read them.
Sony should be ashamed of themselves. As a Linux user I’m currently unaffect by this – I’ll still be able to rip these CDs to my heart’s content. People that sell pirated copies of these CDs will also have already figured out how to get round this anyway, so what is the point? The BBC are reporting that there are a couple of class action lawsuits in the US that are being brought surrounding this. They are alleging that Sony has broken three Californian laws by doing this. Essentially, Sony are installing Spyware on your PC, and you’re agreeing to this by buying the CD in the first place.
The albums affected by this copyright protection method are as follows:
Trey Anastasio – Shine
Celine Dion – On ne Change Pas
Neil Diamond – 12 Songs
Our Lady Peace – Healthy in Paranoid Times
Chris Botti – To Love Again
Van Zant – Get Right with the Man
Switchfoot – Nothing is Sound
The Coral – The Invisible Invasion
Acceptance – Phantoms
Susie Suh – Susie Suh
Amerie – Touch
Life of Agony – Broken Valley
Horace Silver Quintet – Silver’s Blue
Gerry Mulligan – Jeru
Dexter Gordon – Manhattan Symphonie
The Bad Plus – Suspicious Activity
The Dead 60s – The Dead 60s
Dion – The Essential Dion
Natasha Bedingfield – Unwritten
Ricky Martin – Life
Do not buy these CDs unless you want Sony tinkering with your Windows installation. At the moment the number of affected CDs is relatively small, though some are very high-profile releases, and they are only on-sale in the US. If they get a smooth ride with this activity over there then it’s only a matter of time before they try it with releases elsewhere. I’d rather that didn’t happen.
Bill Thompson has written a very interesting article about this on the BBC technology site. It’s very informative but quite pessimistic in his long-term view. He sees this situation only getting worse with increased hardware protection being designed into chipsets.
As consumers, we really do have the power. If we vote with our wallets and cut these bastards profits off then all these companies that are trying to restrict our legal use of paid-for music will have to listen. I do not support piracy. I just want to be able to use my CDs in the equipment that I have without having my installation altered by DRM-obsessed tossers.