Sony Settles

January 1, 2006

Entertainment, Technology

After nearly three months, Sony is now settling the class-action lawsuits filed in a number of U.S. courts. The settlment includes a complete recall of CD’s containing the XCP software. The settlement also provides some measure of compensation for those who purchased XCP-laden disks and who were damaged by such installation.

Well, it’s about time that this happened. Three months ago, I bought a CD from one of my favorite bands (Switchfoot). But as soon as I placed the CD into my computer’s CD drive, I knew I had a problem. In an attempt to manage and control rampant digital piracy, Sony had installed DRM enforcement software onto my computer.

Since then, Sony and I have been working to resolve my problem. I’ve posted several times on the ongoing saga. The first things I did were remedial for my computer. I utilized third-party tools to remove the XCP rootkit from my system. Then I wrote to Sony BMG about my problems. A few weeks later, I was informed of the CD recall – so I took advantage of the recall/replacement offer. Then I waited.

But I can now report that my part of this saga is now closed. I have finally received my replacement CD. And this CD appears to be free of any and all malware. I hope that this is the end of the saga.

But now that it is over, I want to say a few things about the whole situation:

1. Sony acted poorly when they decided to put hidden detection and reporting software onto the systems of their purchasing customers.

2. Sony acted negligently when the first dealt with the problem. Some executives even fabricated stories – or were totally ignorant – of the real situation. And the first response was to “fix” the DRM software, not resolve the problem.

3. The computing and file sharing community acted swiftly to inform folks of the magnitude of the problem. Comprehensive removal tools and techniques were avaialble from the computer security community long before Sony made them available.

4. When confronted with the real magnitude of the challenge, Sony BMG did address the problem. They finally provided real removal software. They recommended third-party techniques and tools to ensure customer satisfaction. They provided a postage-free means of sending in the defective disks in exchange for good disks. Yes, it was hard to find the recall program on the Sony website. But it was there. And word of the program spread. It will be interesting to find out just how many people took advantage of the program before the settlement was announced.

While it would be easy to rant (as many have already), I think it is equally important to commend Sony for what they did correctly. They finally admitted the problem. They finally provided adequate removal processes. They finally provided a real exchange program. So while I could be angry about the inconvenience, I am happier that Sony has really tried to address the problem and not just hide it.

Was Sony acting from noble motives? Who knows? Thwey may have just addresses the PR problem. But the end result is the same: they fixed their product problem. Now we have to watch and see if they have fixed the underlying problem that prompted them to act in this way.

But before I close this commentary, I have to admit that Sony is not the only guilty party in this escapade. Sony was acting (however improperly) to protect the intellectual property rights of their artists. Digital piracy does exist. Some folks truly abuse the medium.

Other people walk precariously close to the line between fair use and abuse – myself included. I have downloaded some digital material w/o first determining whether I could or should. My most recent example was the dowloding and viewing of the BBC Doctor Who 2005 TCI episode (which was phenomenal). Well, I watched the show as if I was able to see it on the public airwaves. And I deleted the content after watching it. And I will buy a Region 1 DVD whenever it becomes available.

But did I have the right to see it at all? And what about “back catalog” content? When is it appropriate to download or watch older content? And why can’t we have a public library for digital content? These are important questions. I hope that this episode may actaully elicit a good dialog between content producters, content distributors, and content consumers.




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