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Damage Runs Deep With Sony-BMG Fiasco
November 17, 2005
Thomas Mennecke
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Trying to gauge the damage caused by Sony-BMG’s rootkit DRM will take years to comprehend. The gaping wound caused by Sony-BMG exists well beyond infected computers, security problems, and a tarnished reputation. The record label’s entire philosophy on P2P networking, Internet piracy and DRM has been effectively destroyed.

The copyright industry has attempted to persuade P2P users back into the record stores by exploiting a largely overblown claim that file-sharing networks expose risks to malicious software. On June 14, 2004, MPAA CEO Dan Glickman made the following statement.

"While these P2P services would have users believe they simply offer an easy way to download movies and music, they really do much more. It is well-documented that using these services can lead to user’s computers being infected with spy ware and viruses. Often, unwitting users have their most sensitive, private information exposed to unfriendly eyes around the world. Further, P2P systems have been used by pornographers as an easy avenue to reach children."

This argument by the copyright industry has been annihilated. Computer Associates labeled Sony-BMG’s rootkit as both spyware and a trojan horse. Minimum estimates suggest as many as 500,000 individuals have Sony-BMG’s rootkit DRM installed – far exceeding any infections caused by P2P networking.

Even without an official label by Computer Associates, the public perception of Sony-BMG’s rootkit is that of distrust. In an ironic twist of fate, computers infected with Sony-BMG’s DRM software run the serious risk of being exposed to malicious software. Considering the files Sony-BMG use are hidden from anti-virus and anti-spyware applications, any virus writer can write an identically named file and exploit an untold number of computers.

The copyright industry has also preached from a moral standpoint. Believing there is a parallel between downloading a file from the Internet and physically stealing a CD from a music store, both the music and movie industry have accused file-traders of moral corruption.

"This is not just about online versus offline," said Hilary Rosen, former president and CEO of the RIAA. "Most in the online business community recognize that what Napster is doing threatens legitimate e-commerce models - and is legally and morally wrong."

Much like the virus argument, the “moral” argument has also been vanquished. The reason why Sony-BMG found itself in so much trouble is because they hid information – otherwise known as deception – and thought they could get away with it. The specifics of Sony-BMG’s rootkit were never disclosed in the EULA, and they certainly did not disclose the consequences of its removal. Whatever moral standpoint the copyright industry had was effectively nullified when Sony-BMG and First4Internet inked their deal.

Although Sony-BMG succeeded in negating the music and movies industry anti-P2P argument in one swift stroke, that’s not the extent of the damage. The music and movie industry’s Digital Rights Management (DRM) campaign – once shrouded in secrecy – has also suffered irreparable harm.

DRM (Digital Rights Management) is a blanket term used to describe copy protection on any digital medium. The protection can be simple, such as blocking unlicensed search terms, or very complex, such as First4Interent’s XCP (extended copy protection.) The deployment of DRM can be considered secretive because very few individuals are actually aware of it.

During a recent anti-DRM protest in New York City, a wide majority of individuals were unaware that such copy protection even existed.

Sony-BMG managed to change all of that.

The last thing record labels want is a tremendous amount of attention drawn to the implementation of DRM. As if Sony-BMG’s actions weren’t bad enough, drawing negative publicity to the DRM issue on only compounded the situation.

Now people are very aware of the Sony-BMG fiasco and the implementation of DRM. What was once largely invisible to the average customer has been shot right into the spotlight. The term “DRM” is now associated with malignancies such as ‘virus’, ‘malicious software’, ‘deception’, ‘arrogance’, ‘distrust’, and ‘trojan.’

This situation has already delayed the implementation of DRM on CDs. Sony-BMG has ceased the manufacture of CDs with XCP software, and does not expect to reinstate their DRM policy until sometime next year. Other record labels are also coming under increased scrutiny for their DRM products, forcing EMI to state, “We don’t use rootkits.” With so much public scorn now directed towards DRM, record labels are facing the very real possibility that DRM in its current incarnation can no longer manage to exist.

Sony-BMG has managed to accomplish in 16 days what bloggers, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, writers, journalists, and niche sites have been working on for years. Sony-BMG has destroyed the music and movie industry’s arguments against P2P, and brought mainstream attention and public distaste to the DRM debate.

This story is filed in these Slyck News categories
Technology News :: Spyware/Adware

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