Sony’s Digital Rights Management

If you’ve already read about this story, my take is probably going to be less thorough than what you already know. However, I don’t think everyone has seen the story… certainly not those who don’t read the “Nerd Press,” so here’s the skinny.

Fingers are being pointed at Sony Music because of their latest copy protection scheme.

Back in the days of vinyl disks and reel-to-reel tape recorders it was very difficult to faithfully reproduce someone else’s intellectual property. Sure, you could make a tape from an album, but it was a royal pain and nowhere as convenient as the original.

All of this started to change with the VCR. We could copy someone else’s property and time shift it to suit our needs. It worked, but it was still cumbersome. How often did you/do you VCR television shows?

Now we’re digital. Whereas copying analog material was difficult and degraded the quality, digital copying is easy and every copy is a true clone of the original. If you go to the Lower East Side in New York, where everything is a knockoff, and buy a bootleg CD, it will sound exactly like the original!

Obviously, this easy copying is scary to rights holders, like movie studios, record and computer software companies. They don’t want us copying, and I understand why. It’s killing them&#185.

They have tried, and are continuing to try to do what they can to hold off a flood of copies. There are laws, which so far have been very ineffectual. It’s bad in the US and worse in many other places. There are also software solutions, and those too haven’t been particularly effective.

Last week a small tech website unearthed Sony’s latest salvo in the war against copying. On his blog, Mark Russinovich reported the discovery of DRM (Digital Rights Management) software, installed on his computer without his permission. It was there because he had played a legal Van Zant CD.

This piece of computer code was stealing resources, phoning home and hiding itself. It was installed without permission… without the option to refuse… and without a method of removal!

The story’s on Mark’s website and it’s worth reading (well, it was to me – your mileage may vary). Among the additional charges, this software could allow nefarious hackers a method to hide their intentions in your machine as they do even more sneaky things (use your imagination).

Sony has reacted, but not in the way I expected. They’ve played down the problem and offered software to reveal this hidden code. Reveal is not remove. Removing it is another matter… a complex matter.

When a company is presented with a situation like this and tries to stay the course, even when up against bad publicity (Think back to a math flaw found in early Intel Pentium chips or the Bon Vivant Vichyssoise debacle of 1971.), it always ends up biting them in the tush.

I understand Sony’s desire to protect their property, but this seems a little draconian. Actually, it seems a lot draconian. Having passive protection is one thing. Going into my computer and installing software without my knowledge or permission is quite another.

I suspect this isn’t the last we’re going to hear about this. In fact, I would be surprised if Sony is the first company using this type of code. They’re probably just the first found.

This story will have legs outside geeky publications.

&#185 – I believe this is true, even though I also believe most copies don’t mean a lost sale. Most copies go to people who wouldn’t buy anyway.

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