Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Sony's Killer Audio CDs

It used to be (in the not too distant past) that when you bought an audio CD, it was yours to do with as you pleased aside from certain restrictions afforded the copyright holder:
First, a baseline. When you buy a regular CD, you own it. You do not "license" it. You own it outright. You're allowed to do anything with it you like, so long as you don't violate one of the exclusive rights reserved to the copyright owner. So you can play the CD at your next dinner party (copyright owners get no rights over private performances), you can loan it to a friend (thanks to the "first sale" doctrine), or make a copy for use on your iPod (thanks to "fair use"). Every use that falls outside the limited exclusive rights of the copyright owner belongs to you, the owner of the CD. [Now the Legalese Rootkit: Sony-BMG's EULA]
Pretty much what we're used to. Nothing scary, nothing dramatic. You bought it, you get to use it. Well, times they are a changin'...

By now I'm sure that virtually everyone who enjoys audio CD's has heard of the Sony-BMG DRM debacle. If not, here it is in the most simple of terms as I understand it. If you happen upon a Sony-BMG audio CD encumbered with their DRM rootkit and you attempt to play it in your Windows-based computer, you get the added 'bonus' of having a secret bit of software installed on your PC using common techniques employed by spy/malware coders. This is done without your knowledge, it leaves your computer vulnerable to exploits, and it is difficult to remove--possibly damaging your OS in the process.

This is completely unacceptable in my opinion, worse, it certainly must be against the law. The Sony-BMG response to criticisms raised against this overtly intrusive scheme has been ludicrous & condescending at best.

Finally compare what fair use rights owning the audio CD you purchased affords you (from the quote above) to what a Sony-BMG "licensed" audio CD takes away from you [Now the Legalese Rootkit: Sony-BMG's EULA]:
  1. If your house gets burgled, you have to delete all your music from your laptop when you get home. That's because the EULA says that your rights to any copies terminate as soon as you no longer possess the original CD.

  2. You can't keep your music on any computers at work. The EULA only gives you the right to put copies on a "personal home computer system owned by you."

  3. If you move out of the country, you have to delete all your music. The EULA specifically forbids "export" outside the country where you reside.

  4. You must install any and all updates, or else lose the music on your computer. The EULA immediately terminates if you fail to install any update. No more holding out on those hobble-ware downgrades masquerading as updates.

  5. Sony-BMG can install and use backdoors in the copy protection software or media player to "enforce their rights" against you, at any time, without notice. And Sony-BMG disclaims any liability if this "self help" crashes your computer, exposes you to security risks, or any other harm.

  6. The EULA says Sony-BMG will never be liable to you for more than $5.00. That's right, no matter what happens, you can't even get back what you paid for the CD.

  7. If you file for bankruptcy, you have to delete all the music on your computer. Seriously.

  8. You have no right to transfer the music on your computer, even along with the original CD.

  9. Forget about using the music as a soundtrack for your latest family photo slideshow, or mash-ups, or sampling. The EULA forbids changing, altering, or make derivative works from the music on your computer.
Can you believe this?! It just seems such an egregious affront to consumers, you'd think it was a joke. But no, this is all for real. I am (always) reminded of the CueCat debacle--they got all bent out of shape because people were using their product in manners other then what they wished. It was just the beginning and it looks like there is no end in sight to this line of thinking...

Just say NO to Digitally Restricted audio CDs!

Update: 12 November 2005, 12:54am.
EFF has posted a list of (known) audio CDs that employ the Sony-BMG XCP rootkit. Check the post, Are You Infected by Sony-BMG's Rootkit? see if any of your CDs are on the list. Sony has (without apology) decided to "suspend" the use of this spy/malware style software in their audio CDs for now--that doesn't necessarily mean they won't try this crap again...


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