The World According to Nick
My take on Software, Technology, Politics, and anything else I feel like talking about.
Friday, November 11, 2005

Sony May Have Made a Mistake, But It's Not a Terrorist 

For those who haven't heard yet, Sony BMG had been beat up lately in the news (and rightfully so) for including a "rootkit" in many of their music CDs as part of an anti piracy effort. For those who are unaware, a rootkit is basically a set of software that is able to hook undetected into the operating system (in this case Windows, though there are also Linux rootkits) and do... well anything. In this case, not only did they try to do things like prevent you from illegally distributing their music, they also made it impossible to uninstall (without breaking drivers on your machine), and also makes your computer more vulnerable to new viruses. You can read the details here.

Today, Sony announced that they will stop using the rootkit, at least temporarily. And in this Washington Post story, the Bush Administration, through the Dept. of Homeland Security has chastised Sony for their use of the rootkit. Wait... the Dept. of Homeland Security? Yep... you read that right:

A high-ranking Bush administration official weighed in Thursday on anti-piracy efforts domestically and abroad, indirectly chastising Sony BMG Music Entertainment for its digital rights management (DRM) software, which computer security analysis say uses tactics typically employed by virus writers to hide its components and resist their removal.

The reference to the scandal over Sony's anti-piracy software came at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce-sponsored event in downtown Washington on combating intellectual-property theft. At the event, Stewart Baker, recently appointed by President Bush as the Department of Homeland Security's assistant secretary for policy, made a comment that suggested that some anti-piracy efforts introduced by the industry could have profound and unexpected effects on the security of the nation's critical infrastructures.

So does the Bush Administration consider Sony to be a terrorist organization? Or is it just that the Dept. of Homeland Security is actually in charge of pretty much everything in Washington? Enquiring minds want to know.

Update: And if you thought the rootkit was bad, just take a look at some of the things that the EULA demands:

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.

The list goes on... go check them all out. I won't be buying anything from Sony until this changes.


Sony does so many things that drive me crazy. A number of the security features they've developed have caused their products or equipment they are used on to fail.

What I really don't understand, is why they develop really cool technologies; like MiniDisc or Betamax and sit on the copyright. They don't seem to allow others to latch on to these technologies, and they don't gain popularity.

  Posted at November 11, 2005 9:32 PM by Blogger Aaron  
Now that Microsoft says they are going to update the Malicious Software Removal Tool to remove Sony's rootkit, will Sony sue them for violating the DMCA?

  Posted at November 14, 2005 8:29 AM by Anonymous Anonymous  
Technically they good. My understanding is that with how the DMCA is written, even Sharpie could be sued because you could use one to get around an earlier Sony copyright method that put a garbage track on the outside of the CD to screw up computers if you tried to rip the CD.... not that Sony ever tried.

  Posted at November 14, 2005 8:34 AM by Blogger Nick  
Which brings up the interesting question of: Could a company win a DMCA lawsuit if they came up with a copyright protection scheme for the sole purpose of suing a successful company because their pre-existing product could be used to violate 1201.2(c) of the DMCA?

  Posted at November 14, 2005 1:19 PM by Anonymous Anonymous  
Well... I'm not an expert in Copyright Law, so I really can't say. I guess it would boil down to how the DMCA view intent. Obviously if a product was pre-existing, and there were no copyright schemes that it broke at the time, then there could be no intent to violate the copyright.

Also, if a company developed a product for the sole purpose of entrapping another into being sued, at the very least that would be a bad faith use of DMCA and would have a hard time in court in my view... though people have been able to pull of worse things.

  Posted at November 14, 2005 2:12 PM by Blogger Nick  
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Name: Nick
Home: Wauwatosa, WI, United States

I'm a Software Consultant in the Milwaukee area. Among various geeky pursuits, I'm also an amateur triathlete, and enjoy rock climbing. I also like to think I'm a political pundit.

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