ZDNet executve editor: forget Sony’s DRM ‘rootkit,’ we should be angry with Microsoft and Apple

“Sony’s rootkit, as bad as it was, isn’t the real story. The way the entertainment cartel is applying DRM as a whole is the real story. They’re applying DRM in a way that the Sony fiasco was inevitable. This wasn’t the first time lack of DRM interoperability manifested itself in the end-user experience in an ugly way, and it won’t be the last. Sure, the rest of the entertainment industry is rewriting its DRM playbook to keep from repeating Sony’s history. But rest assured, another DRM-inspired trainwreck will come along that will light the grapevine ablaze and some other content company will end up with egg on its face when, in reality, it’s Microsoft and Apple that we should really be angry with; two companies that are driving incompatible DRM technologies into the marketplace in a way that twists the royal (or should that be ‘royalty’) screws into the world,” David Berlind writes for ZDNet.

“And, it’s only going to get worse. Unbeknownst to most people, what started with music (let’s just say audio) already applies to video and it’s not going to stop there. Video that’s wrapped in Microsoft’s DRM has been in the market for quite some time already. The fact that video has been added to Apple’s iPods and that FairPlay-protected video will be sold through Apple’s iTunes Music Store (IMS) only adds insult to injury. Just like with music purchased at the IMS, the video you buy at the IMS can only be played back where Apple lets you play it back. This is different from the old days where you could buy a DVD knowing that you could play it in any DVD player,” Berlind writes.

Full article here.

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Nonsense. Berlind writes, “This wasn’t the first time lack of DRM interoperability manifested itself in the end-user experience in an ugly way, and it won’t be the last.” Too bad it wasn’t “lack of DRM interoperability” that was the problem with Sony. The problem was installing a rootkit that opened security holes and phoned home each time a user played a song.

We should blame Microsoft and Apple? Well, one out of two ain’t bad. Apple has the de facto standard for online legal music DRM, FairPlay or protected AAC, with over 700 million (estimated) songs sold to date and a firm grip on 80% of the market. Why does Microsoft insist on trying and failing to propagate their proprietary DRM (as proprietary as Apple, granted, but without being the de facto standard) scheme on the world? It is Microsoft that’s responsible for the incompatibilities. Remember that Apple’s iTunes is free and works for both Mac and Windows, unlike all of Microsoft-based online music stores which are incompatible with Macs.

Apple will eventually license FairPlay to others, thus ensuring that Apple’s DRM becomes to unquestioned standard. But, the time is not now. It’s too early and there is no reason why Apple should hurt themselves for no economic benefit. Let the others try to compete with the iTunes+iPod juggernaut. After they fail, Apple can begin licensing what they’ve worked so hard to build wholly on their terms. If they miraculously begin to succeed, Apple would license FairPlay, too. It’s a timing issue more than anything.

To sum up, without some form of DRM, there would be no legal content online. The content providers demand it. Users should be angry with Sony for going too far and Mac users should be wondering why Microsoft can’t seem to make their DRM compatible with Macs, if they and their WMA-based online music store partners want to compete so badly.

We see Sony addressing the XCP malware-style ‘root kit’ issue for Windows users, but we see no mention of Sony’s other SunnComm-laced CDs that can install kernel extensions on Mac OS X which is what prompted our boycott of all Sony products in the first place. This is highly troubling, to put it mildly. Therefore, MacDailyNews and iPodDailyNews are continuing to boycott all Sony products until this and other “copy-protected CD” issues are addressed appropriately by Sony and recommend that our 2.2+ million unique visitors per month from 136 countries worldwide do the same.

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Texas sues Sony BMG for ‘spyware’ on CDs – November 21, 2005
Fingernail-sized piece of opaque tape defeats Sony BMG CD copy-protection DRM scheme – November 21, 2005
Retailers report Sony BMG, EMI copy-protected CDs turning off music buyers – November 20, 2005
Sony Boycott continues: Sony recalls XCP-tainted music discs, offers Red Book compliant CD exchanges – November 17, 2005
Sony BMG infected music CDs could be good for consumer rights – November 16, 2005
Microsoft to remove Sony BMG malware – November 15, 2005
Sony BMG infected music CDs could lead Sony into ‘big-league legal trouble’ – November 15, 2005
EFF publishes open letter to Sony-BMG calling for recall of all infected Sony-BMG CDs – November 15, 2005
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Sony BMG ‘temporarily suspends’ production of music CDs with copy-protection scheme – November 11, 2005
Boycott Sony products: Sony music CDs can install kernel extensions on Mac OS X – November 10, 2005
Computer security firm: ‘Stinx’ virus hides within Sony’s copy protection scheme – November 10, 2005
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67 Comments

  1. It’s Sony’s fault for producing the malware in the first place and Microsoft’s for having such a swiss cheese OS that is so easily compromised. Those are the only places to lay any blame in this particular case.

  2. Thank You MDN. The Mac Root Kit seemed to have fallen by the wayside. It is imperative that we keep this issue alive until Sony fixes it.

    I would like some details about the thing for starters. I followed your links MDN and could find precious little in the way of details on how you can tell if it is on your Mac, what it exactly does, and how to remove it. Please see if you can find something on this.

  3. All DRM is bad. Apple’s may be the least bad, but it’s still bad.

    My advice is to ignore any DRMed music if you possible can (or while you possibly can). Buy red book CDs and rip them using iTunes.

    The record companies are to blame, Microsoft is to blame and Apple is to blame. Ultimately though, it is a stupid and disunited public that will be to blame for the rise of DRM. The best way to protest is with your wallet. If nobody (literally) buys into DRM, then DRM will fail.

    But all the suckers will screw it up for the rest of us and yet more moeny will flow to the pigopolists.

  4. “It is Microsoft that’s responsible for the incompatibilities.”

    Well, not exactly. Apple is equally responsible.

    It’s fine to say, “hey don’t worry, Apple will eventually license Fairplay and you consumers won’t be locked into Apple products.” But what happens if Apple decides to never license Fairplay? What happens if Apple eventually makes Fairplay even more limiting? The issue isn’t about playing purchased songs on the free iTunes media player (which MDN apparently thinks is the only issue), it’s about the future when more than just MS and Apple are using DRM.

  5. As for the kernel extension (kext) that is on the Sony CDs, there’s no need to worry about it. You will have had to open the disc, find the right folder, double clicked on the right file, OKed the license and confirmed that you wanted to install it.

  6. We should blame Microsoft and Apple? Well, one out of two ain’t bad. Microsoft has the de facto standard for an OS, with over 700 million (estimated) copies sold to date and a firm grip on 90% of the market. Why does Apple insist on trying and failing to propagate their proprietary OS X (as proprietary as Windows, granted, but without being the de facto standard) scheme on the world? It is Apple that’s responsible for the incompatibilities.

  7. AFAIK, the major difference between FairPlay and encrypted WMA is that FairPlay is wrapped around the AAC files, rather than integrated into it (the bits are still encrypted). But this leads me to believe that when the music and movie industries finally see the light and realize that people will purchase content simply because it’s the right thing to do, then Apple can strip the DRM from their songs completely transparent to the user. That’s only a wild guess.

  8. What we have is a situation where Apple controls what their protected files can be used, but they don’t even make the products that let you use it effectively.

    The best they can do is try to sell you an iPod (which may not have enough storage for a whole library), or an extra iMac for you living room to use Front Row, or a remoteless, display free Airport Express.

    They should be licensing this stuff to 3rd parties like Roku, Miglia and Elgato, so that they can play DRMed files, or they should at least be making their own devices.

    (Ideally, of coursem, there would be no DRM)

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