Sony prooves why DRM is bad

Digital Rights Management is the ennemy of the consumer

In some case, the demonstration of the ineptitude of some companies is sooo easy to make. This is what just happened with the mini-scandal in the United States around the technology used by Sony BMG to protect the rights of the artists on some of its recent audio CDs (for example, the last Van Zant).

The « technology »

These music CD from Sony BMG include one mighty rights protection key. If you insert the CD in your PC, it automagically installs a software program aimed at limiting PC access to this CD-A. Up to now, it may look pretty inocuous, but there are several problems:

  1. It only work on PC operating with Windows. In any other situation, forget about the CD you bought, you may not read it at all (isn't it obvious that Sony does not sell Macs, or Linux machines).
  2. The installation of the « protection software » is done silently (you are not told about it, you'll probably not even notice it for some time). In order to be even more discreet, it uses a technology named rootkit that was usually only used by virus hackers, spyware writers et and Trojan horse developers in order to ensure that the malware never can be detected by the user (obviously, the Sony DRM program is now identified as a virus/malware by some anti-virus software).
  3. This installation is so silent that apart from an incomprehensible identification on the back of the CD box, you are not even informed of it. You will be told, on the Sony web site, that the user just ought to read the EULA (End User License Agrement). Just try asking for the EULA in the next department store! It is not available anywhere, it is not even printed on paper inside the CD box). You may imagine freely what awaits you if you try to return tomorow the CD that you bought today and whose EULA is not ok with you.
  4. It goes even further. If you detected the Sony rootkit (the exact same rootkit is used by cheaters of MMORPG games like World of Warcraft), you may be tempted to remove it from your PC (isn't it natural for something that looks like a virus and that you did not see installing itself). Hold your breath, it's becoming really bad: no uninstall option has ever been provided by Sony; Even better, removing the rootkit files render your CD-ROM drive simply useless (it no longer can read Sony and non-Sony CD-ROM and CD-A!).
  5. Sony started by refusing to provide a way to remove the program. They limited themselves to providing a patch making the program merely visible (but no uninstall option).

Sony really must love its customers!

After all that, you may still think that if your are a common normal customer and you paid your dues at an official Sony reseller (like the next department store). Let's compare with the life for the dangerous terrorist that Sony says they want to fight.

If you look about a minute on eDonkey or Kazaa, you will find the Sony album properly encoded in MP3 and it can be downloaded to your MP3 player (did you notice that the honest buyer had already lost the right to listen to the music she just bought on a Mac, a Linux PC, her PC if its was reinstalled, her MP3 player, her iPod).

You may wonder how this disk arrived on the Internet. This is not so complicated: You just have to know (being a computer enthousiast helps here) that keeping the Shift key pressed while the CD is loaded into the PC, the rootkit won't install and the CD content will be rather easily copied. Is that really protection and Rights Management? Was it worth rendering a PC nearly unusable for only this?

My 0,02$ advice: Avoid buying a CD from Sony! You would be stuck with a licence bringing you only worrysome details, you would not be able to read before buying the CD. Worrysome details? This little software program removes your usual fair use rights, damages your computer installation, damages your computer when you try to remove it and uses yor CPU without even asking.

Latest news:

  • Two lawsuits (one class action) are started against Sony BMG in the US for this.
  • A Trojan horse (Stinx-E) was just spotted exploiting the presence of the Sony rootkit to propagate itself.
  • Finally, Sony published a patch that actually removes the rootkit, but it is as difficult as ever to find it on the Sony web site and it leaves your PC unable to read the mere music CD you just bought.
  • After more than a week of hot battle around this issue, Sony just caved in and announced abandonning this specific rootkit (of course, you can expect to see the issue to pop up again later under a new face). Unfortunately, the CDs already in the distribution channel will stay there and the poor guys and gals buying them will we left alone (with their lawyers)...

And some analysts are still wondering why the CD sales are only growing slowly (don't worry too much about the financial health of Sony BMG and other majors. The sales keep growing - albeit slowly - and the music industry shouts only when sales slow down in a local market of for a few months).

If it was not one of the first three disc producers in the world but some friend who would give you this CD, you may be tempted to complain about his apparent tentative to damage your PC, wouldn't you?


Let's suppose you want to uninstall this software pest and you go to the Sony web site. You will have to give at least your email address (as if Sony needed to be able to trace you back to your home because you are probably one of these dangerous pirates they claim to be up against if you did not accept their outrageous licensing terms), you will have to give reasons to explain your acts. Then, you'll discver that the uninstall program only makes it visible. You wanted to remove it? You must be kidding. Sony never thought you would be serious about that. With Sony, think different!

If you really insist, you can now obtain the uninstall, but after that this Sony CD (and other similar Sony CDs) will not be usable on your PC.

As said by Sony on its web site: "this component is not malicious, nor dangerous for the security of your system". How dare they to write just this? It must be a Sony thing.


Welcome in the marvellous world of music protected against dangerous pirates. Please, pardon me if I think that simply downloading music form the Internet is the choice of reason here.

Copyright (c) 1999-2008 - Yves Roumazeilles (all rights reserved)

Latest update: 30-oct-08