Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Sony finally recalls their evil CDs

Sony took Uncle Mark's advice and pulled their CDs.

As noted earlier, these are the CDs that have the "root kit" that compromizes your computer when you want to listen to the CD on your computer. It took a lot of pressure, but they are doing the right thing.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Free TV!

As if to prove Uncle Mark's point about content being cheap to be useful, AOL and Warner are bringing free TV downloads to a computer near you! This, in response to Apple's bringing out the video iPod and allowing you to buy music videos and TV shows on their iTunes software and service.

Now, the question of all questions: Why would you want to ruin a perfectly good computer by watching TV on it?

Friday, November 11, 2005

Sony Pulls their "Copy Protection" Scheme

Sony decided to suspend making music CDs with their anti-piracy root kits.

I have not seen anything yet on whether they are going to recall the CDs they sent out with this code on it.

Frankly, Sony behaved badly on this -- they have suspended making these CDs, but only because they have gotten heat from it. They are not recalling the CDs that are already out, and the Mark Russinovich on his Sysinternals blog (and the guy who broke the story) notes that the uninstall kit Sony provided was not easy to get to -- you just can't download it, you have to fill a web form asking where you purchased the "disc," the artist name, store name, and provide your email address. Then, they email a link to yet another form, at which point I quit. I didn't have the rootkit on my computer, and did not want to install anything from these guys to get rid of it.

So... What to do? I am going to avoid artists and CDs from Sony Music until they recall the CDs they sent out and make their correction much, much easier to do. That's just me.

Copy protection has been around for years and years, for both music and for computer programs.

The music industry has had a love-hate relationship with technology for ages. In 1942, the musician's union (AFM) stopped all record recordings because "recording was ruining the jobs of 60 percent of the AFM membership." Wax records were being used on radio and at dances at the expense (the union claimed) of live music. This union action because of advanced technology went a long way to killing all Big Bands in the US. This is copy protection in a big way -- prevent the first copy from ever being made! More info on the ban is here.

More recently, the record and media companies tried to collect royalties on blank tapes. They claimed that any copying for home use of their TV shows was a violation of copyright. They were willing to be bought off by tacking royalties on blank tapes -- tapes with nothing on them! This was overturned by the Supreme Court in 1984. But, their efforts lived on in getting royalties from DAT (Digital Audio Tape) machines and tapes later on in the Audio Home Recording Act of 1992.

As for computers, in the '80s, Lotus Development had the spreadsheet program: Lotus 123. Its success fueled the success of the IBM PC and Microsoft's MS-DOS operating system. And, it was copy protected. You had to have a floppy disk that the software would read before it would run. In addition, the software recorded information outside the normal areas of the floppy disk, so that you could not copy it normally. Thus, Lotus forced you to buy one copy per computer.

Almost all computer programs sold in the '80s tried to have some sort of copy protection scheme. Some required a hardware key that is installed on the computer, that the software checks when it runs. They are still being used for specialized uses. Some, like Lotus 1-2-3, had key disks.

There was one very notable exception: Borland International, which sold a zillion copies of their "Turbo Pascal" programming environment for MS-DOS. They called their license the "No-nonsense License Agreement" and asked you to "Use it like a Book," meaning, you can use it on only one computer at a time. If you have one at work and one at home, you can install it on both, as long as you only use it like a book -- one user at a time. There was no copy protection on the software. They sold a ton of Turbo Pascal, and it made Borland as a company.

Now you have license "keys" in which you type a string of codes to unlock the software. This is used in one way or the other by almost all major software vendors. Each software company has difference responses to what happens if two or more people enter the same key. Microsoft has started to be hard-line about it -- they used to be fairly open. The issue with Microsoft is that overseas markets, most notably China, would sell literally millions of unauthorized copies of the software (called "pirating") with no recompense to Microsoft. China, being a communist nation, has had no real laws regarding private property, let alone copyright laws. One way to force the issue is to disable the software until someone at the company unlocks it.

Similarly with music. You can copy music from a music CD really easily, and it makes a file that is easily copied. With the advent in the last few years of high-speed internet service, and the internet itself, copying from one computer to another over the internet quickly and cheaply became very doable, and lots and lots of people did it -- mostly kids and college students. Software like Napster allowed people to communicate directly with each other, and search for music on hundreds and thousands of shared computers. Just click to download. I myself found songs that were out of print for years by just searching for it. It was amazing.

It is and was so easy to copy music that people started to do it, legal or not. Each time someone downloaded a song that they did not already have in some medium (like Vinyl or CD) the copyright law was broken, and the record companies even challenged the right to download songs you already had.

This latest ploy by Sony is the latest of a number of ploys used to keep this from happening.

My view is that the law, obviously, needs to be followed, and more importantly, recording artists and even the recording companies (who are taking some risk promoting a band) should be compensated for their art. Free music for all will eventually mean no music for all, because except for a few diehard musicians, no one will record anything. If you don't get your paycheck on Friday, will you show up for work on Monday?

I also believe that Sony and all other music companies can do whatever they want to try to prevent copying of music, provided they do not invade my privacy or damage my property. Sony crossed the line on this copy protection scheme -- they are damaging computers by doing this, by opening them up to attack, slowing the computer down, and modifying the basic core software of the computer. But, Sony can, in non-intrusive ways, protect their investment otherwise. If they want to tack on a request for a password everytime their CD is played, fine. If they want to have the music run only on a program of their design that checks every time is it played, fine. They can do that. And, the consumer can not buy it, too.

I believe that if the music is good enough, most, or at least many, people will buy it if it is easy enough to do so, regardless of whether it is copy-protected or not. Most people are ethical. Those who steal it if it is easy to buy it will not have bought it in the first place, and will have to deal with their Karma when they grow up. Sony, you would think, being based in Asia, would get this, but...

Apple has found the answer for now. It is not perfect, and it is not as good as just going out and getting the (non-copy protected) CD, but it is workable, and good for when you just want that one song or maybe just a few songs that you gotta have now. Apple's financial results is what will drive Sony to do the right thing, just as their own lack of financial results will do the same. Say what you want about corporate greed: it works in your favor when no one buys what a corporation is selling.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Sony Releases Fix to Rootkit

Sony has been burned by the negative publicity of their using deceptive and basically illegal code on their audio CDs to prevent copying their music. Now, PC World notes that they have issued a fix.

Sony states that the software "component" is "not malicious." Their intent may not have been malicous from their point of view, but the effect of the kit is very malicious in that it modifies your operating system without your consent or knowledge, is virtually impossible to remove, and is sloppily written.

What they should do is not issue a fix, but recall the CDs that have the rootkit on them. But, issuing a fix is a good start.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

The Law of Unintended Consequences, Sony, and "The Warden"

My last posting warned of a "root kit" that Sony installs when you run certain of their audio CDs from your computer. News from slashdot shows that Sony's little program can be used to thwart other invasive schemes!

Turns out that a gaming company called "Blizzard" has a game called "Warcraft" that installs a piece of software called "The Warden" that "monitors" the use of the game to ensure that the gamers don't install "cheats" to get around the rules of the game. Since it is considered effectively spyware, they generated heat for doing this. The BBC had a story on this Monday.

Well, the same people who want to cheat Warcraft have found that the sloppy code of Sony's rootkit actually can be used to their advantage by hiding the cheats from "The Warden" -- and, of course, they are doing it!

Just shows you that you cannot keep determined people from getting around these things.

Meth use and Identity Theft

USA Today had an article about a month ago on Meth users being recruited for identity theft rings. What struck me about the article was the sentence "Meth addicts can stay up for days performing menial tasks, such as testing the validity of credit card numbers on websites and buying goods online." What a waste! People staying up for days stealing money so they can take more meth to stay up for days stealing money. Crazy.