Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large
ISSN 1534-0937
Libraries · Policy · Technology · Media


Selection from Cites & Insights 6, Number 1: January 2006


Following Up and Feedback

Sony BMG and DRM

Most of what’s happened since the last installment is fairly predictable and the best place to follow it is Ed Felten’s Freedom to tinker (www.freedom-to-tinker.com, “FTT” here). A few brief notes:

Ř    The other copy-protection software used by Sony BMG, SunnComm MediaMax, also has characteristics of spyware (FTT November 12, 2005). It installs without meaningful consent or notification—leaving files installed and active even if you decline the agreement. The discs include either no uninstaller or a defective uninstaller that leaves the protection driver installed and active. MediaMax transmits information to SunnComm without your notification or consent—even though the EULA explicitly says it doesn’t “collect any personal information.”

Ř    Sony still doesn’t seem to understand the Johnson & Johnson lesson: The best way to minmize problems from a mistake is to react promptly, publicly, and without trying to deny the problem or deflect responsibility. Sony has bought itself a whole lot more bad will than the cost of the pseudo-CDs it’s belatedly recalling because it’s ducking the issues. (USA Today November 18, 2005.)

Ř    XCP contains elements of open source programs protected by GPL or LGPL, which suggests that there’s a copyright infringement (since the discs don’t follow GPL/LGPL license requirements). As noted (FTT November 21, 2005), the scale of Sony’s apparent infringement far exceeds the infringement of those file-sharers Sony’s helped to sue (as one of the few large RIAA members).

Ř    The Texas Attorney General and EFF have both sued Sony for violating various state laws (FTT November 22, 2005). The same article notes that MediaMax is troublesome in other ways: It requires that you run Windows XP with administrator privileges to play a CD, and security experts say you shouldn’t do that if you can avoid it.

Ř    How effective is MediaMax? (FTT November 23, 2005) Not very: You can defeat it by holding down Shift while you’re inserting the CD, turning off autorun, or using Linux or a Mac—or, for that matter, by telling Sony that you want to move the music to iTunes or an iPod, at which point they tell you how to defeat MediaMax (by burning an unprotected copy of the CD). “The bottom line: MediaMax makes your computer less secure and your music less available for lawful use, while achieving very little against pirates.”

Ř    Sony BMG and First4Internet apparently knew about the rootkit issue before it became public (FTT November 30, 2005) and chose to do nothing about it.

Ř    FTT December 9, 2005 includes “CD copy protection: The road to spyware,” a discussion of why DRM for CDs is prone to problems.

Ř    There’s a lovely piece by J. Alex Halderman at FTT December 15, 2005: “Make your own copy-protected CD with passive protection.” In five easy steps, Halderman shows how you, too, can make a “copy-protected” audio CD. All you need is Nero, CloneCD, two recordable CDs and a computer with a recent version of Windows. “[W]ho wouldn’t enjoy finding a homemade copy-protected CD in their stocking? They’re a great way to spread holiday cheer while preventing anyone else from spreading it further.”

Feedback Correction

Fiona Bradley writes Blisspix, not explodedlibrary. Sure, they’re both Australian, but that’s no excuse…

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 6, Number 1, Whole Issue 71, ISSN 1534-0937, a journal of libraries, policy, technology and media, is written and produced by Walt Crawford, a senior analyst at RLG.

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