Copy-Protection Troubles Grow

Six million Sony BMG CDs create computer-security risk

BRIAN HIATT Posted Dec 13, 2005 12:00 AM

Sony BMG's attempts to protect its CDs against piracy continued to be a source of woe for the company in early December: Soon after recalling 5 million discs that contained the intrusive copy-protection software XCP, Sony BMG acknowledged that as many as 5.7 million more CDs posed a security risk for consumers. Those discs contain another form of copy protection, SunComm's MediaMax (version five), which could allow hackers to break into users' computers. Among the affected titles were Santana's All That I Am, My Morning Jacket's Z, Alicia Keys' Unplugged and Maroon 5's live album.

The company released a software patch (available at sonybmg.com/mediamax) intended to fix the problem. "We take the security issues very, very seriously," says Thomas Hesse, Sony BMG president of global digital business. But Hesse adds that the company has no plans to recall the CDs or offer refunds: "At this point, this is pretty much it."

"They are starting to get it figured out that they should respond to problems like this quickly and responsibly," says Corynne McSherry, a staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has filed two class-action lawsuits against Sony BMG over the XCP and MediaMax softwares. "But the fact that problems like this continue to come up should make not just Sony but all the record labels think about whether [copy-protection] software is worth it."

Sony BMG has been the most aggressive of the four major record companies in employing copy protection, which is intended to suppress both online file-sharing and fans copying unlimited discs for friends. EMI has also copy-protected some of its discs, and the EFF says it will examine the software the company is using. "For now it's one record company at a time," says McSherry.

Sony BMG originally announced plans to copy-protect all of its releases in 2006, but it is now reconsidering. "In light of all the events, we're obviously re-evaluating where this whole space is going," says Hesse.

Artist managers have been vocal in their opposition to the use of copy-protection software. "I just don't think that this is the answer to the problem that they think exists," says the manager of one veteran artist affected by the XCP software. Mike Martinovich, manager for My Morning Jacket, says that even before the revelation of MediaMax's security problems, his company had been mailing burned, unprotected copies of MMJ's new album Z to fans who complained that MediaMax prevented them from transferring songs to their iPods. "It should have been enough that fans are annoyed," he says. "But this should be the final reason."


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alicia keys Photo

Alicia's affected

Photo by Laura Farr/AdMedia


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