The last two weeks have seen
almost nonstop reporting about the Sony
"rootkit" debacle. If you haven't been following
the news, here's what happened: More than 50 music CD titles
sold by Sony/BMG secretly install deep into your computer in a hidden
way using what Sony
calls "cloaking" software, which is designed to prevent unauthorized
while appearing to just be installing a simple CD player. This trojan
horse is a serious violation of user trust and maybe
even the law. (Remember, this happens to the people that paid them
$15 or more
for the CD!) But that's just the beginning of this story. It turns out
the product is riddled with security holes, whereby others could
potentially take over the infected computer (this is what's called a
"rootkit") and repeated attempts to remedy the situation have just made
things worse. You can read the entire saga here,
but be forewarned that it's a torturous novel of corporate missteps.
Now, you may be wondering if you misread the title claiming this is
"Good For You". Of course Sony's tactics are despicable and if you're
one of the estimated 568,200
infected users, you should rightly be unhappy. But instead of
on to the "Sony is bad" bandwagon, I'd like to look at the positives
that will come from this event.
1) Sony breaks their
MP3 boycott and sells MP3 files.
In an effort to make amends to affected customers, Sony is offering
customers a replacement CD along with MP3 files. As far as I'm
aware, this is the first
time a major record label is making MP3
files available in conjunction with a CD purchase. All have distributed
tracks in MP3 format before, but none have made MP3 files part of a
purchase. It makes NO sense to give away MP3 files, but not sell them.
It makes no sense to insist, "We don't sell unencrypted music" all the
while selling CDs with the highest quality audio files, which can be
converted to MP3s with a single mouse click using software from Apple,
Microsoft and others. It makes no financial sense for a company to know
of MP3 files are swirling around the Internet each month but refuse to
satisfy the demand with an MP3-stocked music store. I hope this is an
indication that the music industry's illogical religious boycott of MP3
is ending and being replaced with an economic analysis that will
demonstrate that selling MP3s will increase revenues by helping the
industry move beyond "every song for 99 cents."
2) Proof positive
corporations can't be trusted with control over your
computer, your music or your property.
DRM (Digital Restrictions Management) software gives corporations
control over the property you pay for AFTER you buy it. That's dangerous
because your personal interests and a corporations profit motives will
eventually diverge. The hospital will lock you out of your own health
records by using DRM to keep your business. Microsoft will use
DRM in their eventually coming
future operating system to make sure you have to buy their software.
Sony's actions to secretly install software and cripple your computer
to "protect" their music is one of the starkest illustrations to date
of the actual harm consumers face in a DRM world. No longer can people
say that those who warn of DRM scares are alarmists or conspiracy nuts.
The risks are
real and Sony drove that point home.
officials say that CD buyers have the rights to make
"Even the CDs with content protection allow consumers to burn 3 copies
or so for personal use," is a quote from a speech
by RIAA President Cary Sherman. Now, I hear you saying, "No duh!" But
this is significant because the industry leaders have always been coy
or downright reluctant to admit that CD owners can make copies. In a
classic standoff, former RIAA leader Hilary Rosen refused to answer
questions at a Senate Judiciary Committee I testified at when asked by
Senator Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) if consumers had the right to copy
their own CDs. If the
industry agrees that consumers can make copies, then why not sell them
and put some tracks into a music locker for them? I bet consumers would
even pay more for this!
4) People care about
A friend of mine from the MP3.com era, who now runs a company
DRM technologies, called me up yesterday and said, "This Sony issue has
got me thinking that nobody is looking out for the consumer here. I
think we need to build a coalition of companies that will defend
consumers rights and try to make all these DRM strategies work
together." It's terrific that he's finally understanding what I've been
talking to him about for 7 years! His approach to start a coalition to
bring together all these corporations is a grand but unattainable
vision. Apple isn't working with anyone. Microsoft will pretend to work
with someone, but ultimately will not. They will gladly sell out the
consumer in an attempt to
attain a monopoly. The media companies won't play ball either.
The solution isn't some cooked-up "Super DRM," but MP3, which is an
that all software, hardware and service companies can and do support
today. The remedy will come from the marketplace and it's exactly why
MP3tunes is doing Oboe!
The entire MP3tunes company is working over Thanksgiving break to make
it happen soon!
5) Sony ships
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), signed into law by
President Bill Clinton in 1998, makes it a crime to produce or
disseminate technology that can circumvent copyright security measures.
Unbelievably, the software that Sony installs includes DeDRM which
makes iTunes songs work on Linux computers. DeDRM was written by new
MP3tunes employee Jon Lech Johansen ("DVD Jon"), who was sued twice in
creating circumvention software. Having Sony shipping out hundreds of
thousands of discs with DRM-circumvention code will be a good defense
next person the industry attacks for releasing interoperability
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