The Sony BMG Ďrootkití CD protection saga has stepped up pace. Hot on the heels of threatened criminal action in Italy a class action suit has been filed in California. The reason why there has been such widespread backlash is because Sony BMG’s copy protection behaves in much the same way as malicious ware or Malware, in that it secretly installs itself into your computer without your permission, hides itself and makes it, to all intents and purposes, irremovable. If you do try to remove it you cripple your CD drive. And, as my colleague Ian Fogg commented to me, what happens when operating systems are upgraded and potentially make these CDs unplayable? The life cycle of a CD is significantly longer than software so this is a likelihood rather than a possibility. Will Sony BMG offer free upgraded versions of the CD album plus free tech support to remedy any system problems caused in OS upgrade? I doubt it some how, despite fiull culpability.
A senior Sony BMG exec said that consumers wonít be bothered because they donít even know what rootkits are. That completely misses the point. Consumers donít need to understand the intricacies of the technology to understand and oppose the overall concept. The bottom line is the consumers are used to thinking that they own the music they buy. Of course they are only buying the license to play the music, but it is simply not in the interest of the music industry to highlight that fact to consumers by restricting their behaviour. And that applies to EMI (who went on record this week distancing themselves from the rootlkit approach) and all the other record labels, regardless of whether they use less cynical technology. In a world where the industry is trying to compete against free, this simply makes the illegal free (and therefore DRM free) content all the more compelling. And there are many in the industry who know that this will alienate consumers. In a survey of leading European music executives we are fielding at the moment at Jupiter, approximately a quarter of respondents so far believe that consumers will not buy CDs with copy protection. More news on that when the final results of the survey are in.
Finally, there simply isnít a compelling business nor technology case for CD copy protection. If the aim is to prevent music getting on P-to-P networks then forget it: it only takes one copy to get on the networks for it to have potentially global reach and that only requires 1 CD burn and rip (which these technologies generally allow). If it is to prevent people making more than 3 copies, well just how many consumers actually do that? This is a simple case of alienating the majority of music fans and penalizing them for the actions of a minority.