When the comic strips are mocking your latest attempt to thwart piracy, you have a huge public relations problem. The latest round of bad news for Sony started when word got out that their CD’s have software on them that automatically loads spyware onto computers before the CD will play. I first read about the outcry in the Washington Post a few weeks ago in this article which was actually a follow-up to this on-line article. Since then the blogosphere has been exploding with anti-Sony screeds. Even Newsweek is on the case.
I first encountered the beginnings of this screw-the-paying-customers corporate philosophy when I bought the new Foo Fighters album and this creepy little sticker was on the cover:
In even finer print on the back of the CD was a legalese disclaimer in white type on a yellow background and about 1.5 points tall that essentially says that I am not buying a CD in the traditional sense but a CD-ROM that just happens to be playable in CD players. Since it is not a true CD I am now bound by the “software license” governing the CD-ROM. Since the disk is for sale in the music section, not the software aisle, this is a distinction that only the cross between a marketing weasel and a slithering lawyer could love. Besides, how bad can it be, right? As I would find out, pretty bad, bordering on nightmarish.
When I put the CD in my computer was when the real fun began. Up popped some screen with an Accept/Decline button. I hate the little software that comes with CD’s that connect you to their corporate run fan site and stuff, so I clicked “Decline”. The CD then ejected. We danced that minuet three times before it wore me down. I pushed it back in, hit “Accept” and let it do it’s dirty business to my hard drive and a new window came up with a “Play” button. I ignored it and went to Windows Media Player to rip the CD like I always do.
The ripped files sounded like crap. The CD also sounded bad when played by iTunes or WinAmp. They had all sorts of pops and buzzes that weren’t there when played by WMP. I go to the website from the play screen help button and it explains about the encoding for piracy prevention. It also helpfully says that there is a button on the menu for transferring the songs without the noise onto my computer. I give that a try.
With over 300 legally purchased CD’s on my computer I am fairly anal-rententive (that's hyphenated, right?) about the file naming system. I have a dedicated shared network drive for my music and all new CD’s get ripped following this naming system:
That way I know where to find it when I am looking for something specific. I also rip my files at 192 kbps under the notion that someday I may want the extra quality.
The Sony software copies (not rips) a group of files to this location:
No separate directory by artist. No clue who the artist even is from the file name.
These files are 128 kbps Windows Media files that have all sorts of Digital Rights Management (DRM) restrictions built in. The very unhelpful FAQ on the Sony website says that if I want to easily transfer my songs to my iPod I should e-mail Apple and tell them to get with the program and support their DRM system instead of Apple’s. They even supply a link to do this. No link to Sony so that I can tell them they are being very cruel to their quickly dwindling customer base that actually buys music on a CD from a store. I don’t think they want to hear that.
Finally, after more Googling, the Dave Matthews Band website, of all places, explains that to get around this I should just burn the WMA files onto a CD using Window Media Player and then rip the songs from that disc to my hard drive and the files will be DRM-free. Which means I have to coaster a CD-R and re-rip files that have been uncompressed from 128 kbps just to listen to them on my iPod. It took nearly two hours for me to climb this learning curve about what it means to be a Sony/BMG customer in this day and age. According to them, I have no Fair Use rights to put music I have bought on devices I own without their permission.
This rant is reaching the limits of people’s attention span, but I think I have some insight into what big picture game Sony thinks it is playing. I will post that complete with spy photos in the very near future.
Update: "Spy photos" post is here.
Technorati tag:hummingbird rump, Sony, DRM, copy protection, iPod, BMG