This Week's Rant - Goddamn Record Companies!!!

Regular readers of this blog may recall that around a year or so ago I was upset when I discovered that the latest release by Sahara Hotnights, an all-female Swedish punk rock band, was encoded with a special program that would not allow for copying onto my computer.
Being as this was months before I purchased an Ipod, my desire to copy a track or two was for inclusion in my monthly CDR compilation. Once or twice a month, I would grab all of my new purchases and pull out the standout tracks to listen to in my car.
While this annoyance was a rare occurrence at the time, just a year later almost every single release by Sony/BMG, the world’s largest record company, has “features” that not only limits your ability to use songs on compilation CD’s, but attempts to eliminate your ability to transfer the contents of the disc that you own onto the world’s biggest portable music player, the Ipod.
As Rolling Stone and many other publications have pointed out, these security measures are more of a slap against Apple than those that want to place some tunes on Kazaa or Soulseek. After single-handedly making digital media a winning business venture, Apple now has to deal with a non-appreciative industry. Record labels want to dictate not only different pricing structures, but they also want to force the company to accept the audio formats of their competitors.
It now turns out that the software used in this childish game not only can stop you from placing your music onto your Ipod, but can also completely screw up your computer by placing hidden files that only the most knowledgeable computer geek can find…and even they can do nothing to get rid of it.
A couple of weeks ago a computer security analyst was testing a new program that scans for the sorts of hidden files that results in adware and viruses. He discovered a handful of files that should not have been present, and after long hours or research traced these back to the company that created the anti-copy program for Sony. The program in question is known in software circles as a “rootkit”, a set of tools attackers can use to maintain control over a computer system once they have broken in.
Here’s what really sucks about this program and their associated files. Not only do you not know they’re present, but there is no way to get rid of it. There’s no “uninstall” feature; it doesn’t show up in your “add or remove programs” control panel. And if you somehow do figure out how to eliminate the files, you stand a good chance of losing either the use of your CD-Rom drive or Windows itself.
And it’s poorly written code. According to a number of sources I discovered, any hacker can take advantage of this software to hide their own files just by making sure that their files start with a certain combination of letters and figures…and your antivirus program will never discover them.
So here’s what the record industry thinks about their customers – we’re thieves if we use downloading programs but we’re also thieves if we just stick a CD into our computer to play. “Stealing” is now safer than buying!
What can a person do to protect themselves? So far, not much. Sony initially shrugged their shoulders. Thomas Hesse, the Presdient of Global Digital Business for the conglomerate, was quoted as saying “most people I think don’t even know what a rootkit is, so why should they care about it?” As the publicity surrounding the controversy grew, they eventually attempted to create some positive PR by releasing a “patch”. Unfortunately, this fix doesn’t actually eliminate the files; it just looks to see if they’re present. Furthermore, you must contact the label by phone and answer a series of questions about your planned uses of the involved discs. Like that’s any of their business. Oh, and there are reports that this patch can also cause your computer to crash.
So if you have stuck a recent Sony or RCA disc into your computer, you’re probably screwed for the time being. If not, the best thing that you can do is disable the autoplay function in your CD-Rom. If you don’t know how to do that, just hold the shift button down when you load any disc from these labels. This will stop any embedded programs from running without your knowledge.
If I wasn’t such a music addict, I would advise everybody to just boycott any label that utilizes these kinds of dirty tricks. But since I can’t live up to such a high standard, I can’t expect anybody else to do the same. Plus, these stupid labels would just use the resulting loss in sales as further proof that piracy is killing their business.


Anonymous said…
Anonymous said…
So does this happen when you just import songs onto iTunes too?
Scott said…
It doesn't really have anything to do with Itunes or any other existing program on your computer. If you put a copy-protected disc into your computer and the silly consumer agreement statement comes up (which doesn't mention the hidden files) then those files have been put onto your harddrive. If you have autorun disabled or held the shift button down when you loaded the disc, then you should be able to import it with itunes as usual.
Anonymous said…
Sahara Hotnights kick ass.
Tom J said…
"Plus, these stupid labels would just use the resulting loss in sales as further proof that piracy is killing their business."

And they do what to combat piracy? Continue their "rootkit" campaign?

Sony would know of such a boycott, and the reason for it--they would have no trouble making the necessary connections. Publicly claiming that the cause is due to piracy, and not a boycott, would make THEIR situation worse (sales would continue to drop, and would get worse if they do not meet consumer demands by discontinuing "rootkit")--and I'm sure they are aware of it.

But hey, a free market is a fast place--another year or two and this will probably be a distant memory. So don't get too down about it.

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