BitDepth 499 - November 15

Sony BMG tries to lockdown its CDs and annoys its customers instead.
Sony gets nasty with its music

Sony BMG, set my Santana free! Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

After being blindsided by Napster in 1999, the American music industry has blundered around the new digital incarnations of recorded music trying to plug holes and offer substitutes for illegal music downloading but they’ve proven to be lousy at it.
The most successful alternative to outright music piracy on the Internet is a service from Apple, a computer company, and their iTunes Music Store has proven to be a runaway success at selling protected music at a reasonable price to consumers anxious to fill their iPods the “right” way.
But even with a massive 75-80 percent of the online music market, some consumers find the limits that Apple places on their files onerous.

If you happen to live in a country that isn’t served by a native iTunes Music Store (21 countries are), like, say, Trinidad and Tobago, the problem is a moot one. You can’t buy music from Apple’s website, or for that matter, from the new, fully legal Napster or Sony’s online store either.
If you want to put digital music files on your computer or portable music player the legal way, you’re going to have to go “old school” and buy a CD and then rip the files. That’s the route that almost everyone I know takes, and I’ve drifted from the shiny discs so totally that the only time I ever touch a new CD is to rip it before shelving it.

This use of media that you’ve bought has long been covered by the “fair use” provisions of most modern copyright conventions, brought to the fore when movie industry went crazy over the introduction of recordable Betamax and VHS tape equipment to the consumer market.
Movie moguls wanted home recording thing shut down as quickly as possible while consumers argued that recording something to view at their convenience was a reasonable thing to do if affordable technology allowed it.
VHS tapes and later DVDs became a cash cow for the movie industry but that seems not to have registered on anyone who manages creative output, because the copy-protection gang’s back with a vengeance.
With the passing of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), a particularly draconian piece of legislation that empowered more use of Digital Rights Management (DRM) technologies, producers are working overtime to ensure that you can’t access music or movies in ways that make bean counters nervous.

The most recent attempt to roll back consumer privilege is Sony’s new “rootkit” technology that works to block copying their product on Windows computer systems.
Rootkits were a new one for me. A particularly nasty and invasive way of handling DRM, you music CD will install software on your computer before a protected CD will play but the consequences of it aren’t noted. Rootkits, like the savviest viruses, install themselves and then cover up any trace of their existence.
The problem isn’t just with the stealthiness of Sony’s implementation; it’s the fear that this invisible platform will offer hackers and virus creators a chance to piggyback on a brand-new vulnerability.
The problem was uncovered by Mark Russinovich who wrote after uncovering the deeply hidden rootkit files that “The entire experience was frustrating and irritating. Not only had Sony put software on my system that uses techniques commonly used by malware to mask its presence, the software is poorly written and provides no means for uninstall.”

The technology also opens a connection to Sony via the Internet. After first denying that it did so, the company later reversed itself and said that it does but they don’t do anything with the information, should we readily believe the company’s assertion that “the component is not malicious and does not compromise security”?
The supremely geeky can read all about the code hacking involved in
Sony’s rootkit.
Sony has since, in the face of focused furore the issue has raised, issued
a patch that removes the software but if you use it, you won’t be able to play the CD. In addition, the company claims that it has now dropped the copy-protection technology created by First 4 Internet.
Sony says that it will continue to copy-protect its releases using different technology in the future, but they have far to go, as does the recording industry as a whole, to create anti-piracy techniques that do anything more than give momentary pause to real pirates and annoy and alienate their paying customers.

Sony BMG is a vast company that owns the following labels: Arista Records, Columbia Records, Epic Records, J Records, Jive Records, LaFace Records, Legacy Recordings, Provident Music Group, RCA Records, RCA Victor Group, RLG – Nashville, Sony BMG Masterworks, Sony Music Nashville, Sony Urban Music, Sony Wonder, So So Def Records and Verity Records.
Albums affected by the rootkit technology include...
Trey Anastasio, Shine (Columbia)
Celine Dion, On ne Change Pas (Epic)
Neil Diamond, 12 Songs (Columbia)
Our Lady Peace, Healthy in Paranoid Times (Columbia)
Chris Botti, To Love Again (Columbia)
Van Zant, Get Right with the Man (Columbia)
Switchfoot, Nothing is Sound (Columbia)
The Coral, The Invisible Invasion (Columbia)
Acceptance, Phantoms (Columbia)
Susie Suh, Susie Suh (Epic)
Amerie, Touch (Columbia)
Life of Agony, Broken Valley (Epic)
Horace Silver Quintet, Silver's Blue (Epic Legacy)
Gerry Mulligan, Jeru (Columbia Legacy)
Dexter Gordon, Manhattan Symphonie (Columbia Legacy)
The Bad Plus, Suspicious Activity (Columbia)
The Dead 60s, The Dead 60s (Epic)
Dion, The Essential Dion (Columbia Legacy)
Natasha Bedingfield, Unwritten (Epic)
Ricky Martin, Life (Columbia)
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