Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Sony and DRM Drama

Click here for the full comic with punchline.

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:

C:/Username/My Music/SongTitle.wma

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.

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Anonymous said...

This is a very good summary and will save me the two hours of learning curve that you describe. So thank you. I don't have any kind of system like you have, but a lot of times when I buy a cd I make a copy for my car so I have one at the house and one in the car. And sometimes months go by when I don't use my cd burner for anything. (Luckily, because half the time it's out of order.)

trusty getto said...

Wouldn't it be great if Sony actually spent time and money on producing *quality* products instead of spending time and money making their products inferior while assuming their customers are all crooks?

Though I'm not a boycott nut, I'm seriously considering boycotting Sony artists and encouraging them to leave the label when their contract is up. This is CRAP !

Anonymous said...

Thank goodness I have a Mac. I also have the latest Foo Fighters CDs and was able to rip 'em and put 'em on my iPod without any problems.

I feel sorry for the artists on Sony who most likely had no idea what they were getting into when they signed with the label. They are alienating a lot of fans through no fault of their own.

Unknown said...

So the CDs are even protected against being put on an iPod? That's ridiculous. You bought the CD, you bought the iPod, you bought the software. And now they're making it hard to use the latter two.

Thanks for the info, though. It'll help me out later. Looking forward to the spy photos.

Your Mother said...

I read about this last week. I also found a link of how to get the software off your computer if it is already there. Kinda creepy if you ask me.

Anonymous said...

The Onion takes on a related issue

Anonymous said...

This crap makes me soooo mad. Like, livid mad. Doesn't Sony/BMG understand that this kinda stupid s*** only kills their industry further? Why would I go out and by one of their cds to jump through those hoops, when I can steal it online without the hassle, and potential risk to my file system as well?


yellojkt said...

The Onion bit is hilarious. Unfortunately, I think that's what the world is coming to. I have a Sony computer too and the installed "help desk" causes all sorts of crashes.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great post. I too purchased this disk unknowingly from a local Fred Meyers. I recently wrote Fred Meyer corporate complaining and threatening to never step foot in their store again should they enforce their no returns on opened music policy (pretty easy to reason past this policy as there is no easy way to rip the music due to Satan's...er...sony's software). I was pleased to recieve a call from the store manager telling me to come on in and get my refund / store cred.

I will have to purchase the disk on Itunes now I guess. I hate to put the money back in Sony's pocket but its a great disk...no?