The Sony BMG Rootkit Fiasco Redux

There’s a new development in the Sony BMG Rootkit story (for background see my prior posting and update comment): Sony BMG has reached a settlement (awaiting court approval) regarding the class action lawsuit about its use of DRM (Digital Rights Management) software after virtual "round-the-clock settlement negotiations" (on December 1st numerous individual lawsuits were given class action status). The short story is that XCP-protected CDs will be replaced with DRM-free CDs and customers will be given download/cash incentives to exchange the disks; no recall for MediaMax-protected CDs, but buyers will get song MP3s and an album download. You can get details at "Sony Settles ‘Rootkit’ Class Action Lawsuit."

Since my December 4th update comment, there have been a few articles/blog postings of note about this controversy. "Summary of Claims against Sony-BMG" provides an analysis by Fred von Lohmann of EFF of "the various legal theories that have been brought against Sony-BMG over the CD copy-protection debacle." In "Sony CDs and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act," Ed Felten considers whether Sony BMG, First4Internet, and SunnComm/MediaMax "violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), which is the primary Federal law banning computer intrusions and malware" (he notes that he is not a lawyer), and, in "Inside the MediaMax Prospectus," he highlights some interesting aspects of this document. "New Spyware Claim against Sony BMG" describes a new claim added to the Texas lawsuit by Attorney General Greg Abbott: "MediaMax software . . . violated state laws because it was downloaded even if users rejected a license agreement." Finally, "Just Let Us Play the Movie" examines the fallout for the film industry and DRM use in general.

In other recent IP news, two items of interest: "France May Sanction Unfettered P2P Downloads" (mon dieu!) and "Pro-Hollywood Bill Aims to Restrict Digital Tuners."

Machinima

Here’s an interesting trend: using video games to create animated digital films. It’s called "Machinima." In one technique, the 3-D animation tools built into games to allow users to extend the games (e.g., create new characters) are used to generate new 3-D films. Of course, it can be more complicated than this: the Machinima FAQ outlines other strategies in layperson’s terms.

BusinessWeek has a short, interesting article on Machinima ("France: Thousands of Young Spielbergs") that describes one social commentary Machinima film (The French Democracy), noting that it got over one million hits in November. It also quotes Paul Marino, executive director of the Academy of Machinima Arts & Sciences as saying: "This is to the films what blogs are to the written media."

If you want to check out more Machinima films, try the 2005 Machinima Film Festival or Machinima.com (try "download" if "watch" doesn’t work).

Machinima is yet another example of how users want to create derivative works from digital media and how powerful a capability that can be—if intellectual property rights owners don’t prohibit it. Since the first Machinima movie was created in 1996, it appears that the video game industry has not moved to squash this movement, and, needless to say, it has thrived. However, this state of affairs may simply reflect Machinima’s low profile: A recent Wired News article, which notes that Machinima has been employed in commercials and music videos, indicates that Doug Lombardi, Director of Marketing at Valve (a video game software company), feels that: "As the films become commercially viable, machinima filmmakers are going to butt up against copyright law."

The Sony BMG Rootkit Fiasco

When Mark Russinovich posted "Sony, Rootkits and Digital Rights Management Gone Too Far," he helped trigged a firestorm of subsequent criticism about Sony BMG Music Entertainment’s use of the First4Internet’s digital rights protection software on some of its music CDs. It was bad enough that one of the planet’s largest entertainment companies was perceived as hacking users’ computers with "rootkits" in the name of copy protection, but then the EFF posted an analysis of the license agreement associated with the CDs (see "Now the Legalese Rootkit: Sony-BMG’s EULA"). Things got worse when real hackers started exploiting the DRM software (see "First Trojan Using Sony DRM Spotted"). Then the question posed by the EFF’s "Are You Infected by Sony-BMG’s Rootkit?" posting became a bit more urgent. And the lawsuits started (see "Sony Sued For Rootkit Copy Protection"). Sony BMG suspended production (see "Sony Halts Production of ‘Rootkit’ CDs"), but said it would continue using DRM software from SunnComm (see "Sony Shipping Spyware from SunnComm, Too"). Among others, Microsoft said it will try to eradicate the hard-to-kill DRM software (see "Microsoft Will Wipe Sony’s ‘Rootkit’").

What would drive Sony BMG to such a course of action? Blame that slippery new genie, digital media, which seems to want information to not only be free, but infinitely mutable into new works as well. Once it’s granted a few wishes, it’s hard to get it back in the bottle, and the one wish it won’t grant is that the bottle had never been opened in the first place.

Faced with rampant file sharing that is based on CDs, music companies now want to nip the rip in the bud: put DRM software on customers’ PCs that will control how they use a CD’s digital tracks. Of course, it would be better from their perspective if such controls were built in to the operating system, but, if not, a little deep digital surgery can add lacking functionality.

The potential result for consumers is multiple DRM modifications to their PCs that may conflict with each other, open security holes, deny legitimate use, and have other negative side effects.

In the hullabaloo over the technical aspects of the Sony BMG DRM fiasco, it’s important not to lose sight of this: your CD is now licensed. First sale rights are gone, fair use is gone, and the license reigns supreme.

Pity the poor music librarian, who was already struggling to figure out how to deal with digital audio reserves. Between DRM-protected tracks from services such as iTunes and DRM-protected CDs that modify their PCs, they "live in interesting times."

While the Sony BMG fiasco has certain serio-comic aspects to it, rest assured that music (and other entertainment companies) will eventually iron out the most obvious kinks in the context of operating systems that are designed for intrinsic DRM support and, after some bumps in the road, a new era of DRM-protected digital multimedia will dawn.

That is, it will dawn unless musicians, other digital media creators, and consumers do something about it first.

Navigating the Library Blogosphere

Needless to say, there has been rapid growth in blogging by librarians over the last few years, and library blogosphere has become more varied and complex. Here are some directories of library web logs to help you navigate the library blogosphere:

Want more information about library web logs? Try Susan Herzog’s BlogBib.

Something Wiki This Way Comes

Wikis are catching on in the library world. What’s a Wiki? "The simplest online database that could possibly work." (Quote from: "Making the Case for a Wiki.")

Here’s a few examples of how Wikis are being used:

If you want to dig in and learn more about Wikis, try Gerry McKiernan’s WikiBibliography.

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