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|SUBJECT ||Subject: [NYLXS - HANGOUT] Sony Ships Sneaky DRM Software
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From: "Inker, Evan"
Subject: [NYLXS - HANGOUT] Sony Ships Sneaky DRM Software
Date: Wed, 2 Nov 2005 18:25:05 -0000
X-Mailer: Internet Mail Service (5.5.2653.19)
Sony Ships Sneaky DRM Software
Music giant uses spyware and virus writers' techniques to prevent
unauthorized music copying.
Robert McMillan, IDG News Service
Tuesday, November 01, 2005
SAN FRANCISCO -- Mark Russinovich couldn't understand how the rootkit had
sneaked onto his system. An expert on the internals of the Windows operating
system, he was careful when it came to computer security and generally had a
pretty good idea of what was running on his PC at any given time. And yet
the security tool he was using to check his PC was pretty clear: It had
found the rootkit cloaking software typically used by virus and spyware
After a bit of detective work, Russinovich eventually tracked down the
source: a Sony BMG Music Entertainment CD titled Get Right with the Man,
performed by country music duo Donnie and Johnny Van Zant.
It turns out that Sony is using techniques normally seen only in spyware and
computer viruses in order to restrict the unauthorized copying of some of
its music CDs. Sony's software, licensed by Sony from a Banbury, UK, company
called First 4 Internet, has become the basis of a dispute that once again
pits computer advocates against an entertainment company experimenting with
new ways to prevent the unauthorized copying of its products.
Sony Says Copy Protection
Sony has been using First 4's XCP (Extended Copy Protection) software since
early 2005 as a copy protection mechanism for some of its music CDs,
according to Sony spokesperson John McKay. He could not say how many of
Sony's CDs currently use the XCP software, but he said it is one of two
digital rights management products used by the company. The other is
SunnComm's MediaMax software, he said.
The XCP software prevents users from making more than three backup copies of
any CD, and Sony puts an XCP notification on the back of CDs that use the
mechanism, according to Mathew Gilliat-Smith, First 4's chief executive
Although the Van Zant CD software came with an end user license agreement
(EULA) informing him that he would be installing software that would reside
on his PC until removed, Russinovich, who works as chief software architect
with systems software company Winternals Software, said he never expected to
be installing a product that would then prove to be virtually undetectable
and extremely difficult to remove.
Sony's McKay believes that the disclosures in the license agreement are
adequate. "I think the EULA's pretty clear about what it is," he said. "The
reason why consumers have really high acceptance levels of these
content-protected discs is because they have the functionality that people
The First 4 software does nothing malicious and can be uninstalled, should
the user want to remove it, McKay said.
That uninstall process is not exactly straightforward, however, and cannot
be done through the Add or Remove Programs utility in the Windows control
panel. When asked for instructions on how to uninstall the software, McKay
directed the IDG News Service to a section of the Sonybmg.com Web site where
users could ask Sony customer support for uninstall directions.
Who Controls Your PC?
Although many computer users may not care much about the finer points of
EULAs, people like Russinovich say Sony's software calls a more important
issue into question: Who gets to have control over your computer?
"When something like this installs and doesn't advertise itself, you've lost
control of your own computer," he said. "And the EULA description that
they've presented doesn't let you make an educated decision about whether
you'd want this installed or not."
Ironically, the invasiveness of the XCP software punishes users who pay for
their music, said Fred von Lohmann, staff attorney with the Electronic
Frontier Foundation, a digital rights advocacy organization based in San
Francisco. "They are installing software in a way that makes it very
difficult for you to know what was installed and makes it very difficult to
uninstall it. And, worst of all, the software is not very well written," he
said. "I think most computer users will find that to be very outrageous."
Lawyers might also be interested in the software, von Lohmann said. The EFF
attorney said a lawsuit was conceivable. "Sony is using a piece of your
computer in a way that you didn't expect or authorize," he said. "Depending
on how clearly this was disclosed, some consumers may be able to make an
argument that this is actually an unauthorized intrusion," he said. "It's
not beyond the realm of possibility that Sony BMG could be liable for this."
In 2001 the other provider of Sony copy protection software, SunnComm, was
involved in a lawsuit that alleged that the company's software, which was
then being used by Music City Records, did not adequately notify consumers
of its capabilities.
In the long term, Sony appears to be moving away from the techniques that
have incensed Russinovich.
First 4's Mathew Gilliat-Smith said his company has spent the last month
developing a new version of the XCP software that does not use the
controversial rootkit techniques. "We won't use the same methodology that
makes the software hidden in the way that people are concerned about," he
Neither Gilliat-Smith nor Sony's McKay could say when this new software
would begin appearing in Sony's products or how many existing titles were
shipping with the XCP software.
"This is a legitimate technology that we've been charged to produce,"
Gilliat-Smith said. "People who aren't comfortable with the technology can
apply to have the software removed."
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