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Sony's Attitude Has a History

A Security Fix reader with an excellent memory (thanks, Patrick) reminded me today of a few choice words spoken nearly five years ago by Sony Corp. chief executive Howard Stringer that eerily foreshadowed the controversial soup that Sony BMG now finds itself mired in over the invasiveness of its anti-piracy technology.

Cue the spooky music and the wavy screen, and we'll take you way back in Internet time to March of 2001, to a confab of technology industry titans dubbed the "Silicon Summit II." Among the items up for discussion at the time was what to do about Napster (this was back in the Stone Age of the Internet, before the entertainment industry succeeded in scuttling the file-sharing service, only to see the concept rise from the ashes and multiply).

I tried to find a transcript of this particular roundtable, but MSNBC -- which hosted it -- has since moved the hyperlink, so a snippet from this ZDNet story (there is no author listed) will have to suffice.

"The panelists then talked about the controversial song-swapping service Napster and the need to find a way for people to download music over the Internet in a way that enables the artists to get paid for their work....

Sony CEO Howard Stringer, who kept the audience laughing throughout the night with a battery of quips, said, "Right now it would be possible for us, and I've often thought it would cheer me up to do it, you could dispatch a virus to anybody whose files contain us or Columbia records, and make them listen to four hours of Yanni ... but in the end we're going to have to get serious about encryption and digital-rights management and watermarking."

A student in the audience then put Stringer on the spot, telling him he had recently bought a portable digital music player made by Sony that makes it easy to download songs from the Internet. Isn't it hypocritical of Sony, he asked, to be fighting Napster from its music division and then supporting it by making such devices?

Calling the student's question a good one, Stringer replied, "At some point, we work it out as we go along. But if we don't stay in the business, someone else will do it. And there's a real danger with the margins of consumer electronics companies that Singapore and Korea and so forth will design the machines. So we play defense on the one hand and offense on the other hand. And if it seems a little illogical it's only defending our turf."

Fast-forward to Nov. 4, 2005, when Thomas Hesse, president of Sony's Global Digital Business was interviewed on National Public Radio's Morning Edition, and said of complaints that Sony's anti-piracy software behaved exactly like a rootkit:

"Most people, I think, don't even know what a rootkit is, so why should they care about it?"

Small wonder, then, that class-action lawyers are starting to circle Sony's wagon train. Can anyone at Sony really be scratching their heads as to why there is so much public outrage and indignation over this entire anti-piracy escapade? The offhand, flippant remarks of Sony's senior leadership speaks volumes about the company's attitude toward the rights of their customers.

By Brian Krebs  |  November 10, 2005; 10:05 AM ET
Categories:  From the Bunker , Piracy  
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Someone over at Mr. Russinovich's blog comments that a Dutch researcher has found evidence that suggests that the Sony spyware actually *violates copyrights*. Specifically, it looks as though the open source LAME encoder has been pirated by Sony/First 4.

We'll see if this is proved in time. If it is ... well, the mask falls off, and it will be seen that Sony itself has no regard for copyright, and this has been nothing more than a matter of *power*. That is has merely been Sony pursuing what it believes to be its interests by any and all means however unethical and illegal.

Posted by: Mike | November 10, 2005 10:32 AM | Report abuse

Sony needs to be sued with damages of 100 trillion dollars. If if this bankrupts that bastages then so be it. It is high time that high crimes by major corporation no longer be tollerated.

Posted by: Ted | November 10, 2005 11:09 AM | Report abuse

We will block Napster at source - Sony exec
By Tony Smith, The Register
Published Wednesday 23rd August 2000 11:40 GMT
** begin quote **
But [Sony VP] Heckler's comments, as reported by the U-Wire Web site,
US news service aimed at college students, get better: "Sony is going
to take aggressive steps to stop this. We will develop technology that
transcends the individual user. We will firewall Napster at source -
we will block it at your cable company, we will block it at your phone
company, we will block it at your [ISP]. We will firewall it at your PC.
Of course how practical and effective are the strategies Heckler outlined
remains to be seen, [...] - and there are plenty of OSes and system that
Sony and others would not be able to get its code into [sic!].
** end quote **

Posted by: JCanada | November 10, 2005 11:18 AM | Report abuse

When will these people realize that if they offerred their entire catalogs for LESS than .99, without DRM's, they would make HUGE profits. I am waiting for a customer freindly way to download music, until then I'll buy the CD's I want, and deal with the fact that in the information age the 'masters of audio' leave us to live in virtual silience.

Posted by: Talcott | November 10, 2005 11:21 AM | Report abuse

YEAH!, and Sony ate my balls!

Posted by: Ignorant Rant | November 10, 2005 11:22 AM | Report abuse

It seems to me that in the event that these rootkits are exploited, the people at sony responsible should be held accountable in the same way a person who writes a virus is.

Posted by: sudopinion | November 10, 2005 11:23 AM | Report abuse

Mine TOO!

Posted by: Nutless Music thief | November 10, 2005 11:24 AM | Report abuse

Four hours of Yanni sounds good to me!

Posted by: C | November 10, 2005 11:28 AM | Report abuse

Any thoughts of ethics on Sony's part? The comments cited here by their higher-ups show that they don't care about what they do or how they do it, as long as they maximize their income.

The fact is that there are people out there who know what rootkits are and how f*cked up it is to use this to enforce DRM... I hope they get sued for as much as possible, and I hereby boycott Sony.

Posted by: Ryan | November 10, 2005 11:31 AM | Report abuse

Instead fo being whiney little girls about it, simply stop purchasing Sony products. I have not shopped at Wal-Mart for years because they are an evil company. If an american can avoid spending any of their money at Wal-Mart, then how hard would it be to avoid padding Sony's pockets. Long story short, shut up and wail for some 14 year old to crack their latest BS so that you can rip what you want without having to pay for it. THAT is the AMERICAN way. VIVA la Fidel!

Posted by: Here's an idea | November 10, 2005 11:32 AM | Report abuse

Here's an idea
right. keeing inflation down is evil.

Posted by: right | November 10, 2005 11:49 AM | Report abuse

The part that slays me over this whole thing is this:

Sony just slapped the hell out of the people who buy music on CD.... the very people that they should be loving. This has virtually no effect on those who download music illegally.

Will it stop someone from being able to rip the CD? Not if they have any type of technical knowledge (or own a Mac, or run a Linux machine).

While I understand Sony's motive, this plan to unleash what has become a virus in the eyes of the consumer will only tarnish their reputation.

Oh... and speaking of viruses... it's been announced today that some script kiddy has already released one that will infect machines that have Sony's DMP system installed.

Good luck getting out of this one, Sony.

Posted by: Tone | November 10, 2005 11:56 AM | Report abuse

Not to mention that the "fix" supplied after they were busted requires running an active-x program.

From what I recall, active-x should only be run from trusted web sites like Microsoft, anything else is a security risk.

Should the rootkit authors be categorized as a trusted source for running active-x?

Posted by: Biff | November 10, 2005 11:56 AM | Report abuse

At a time when Sony should be encouraging and romancing CD buyers, they are instead "attacking" them. In both Martha's and Donald's "Apprentice", they would be given the boot for marketing incompetence.

Posted by: John Johnson | November 10, 2005 12:07 PM | Report abuse

The MPAA sues a 67-year grandfather for $600,000 when his 12-year old grandson uses his PC to illegally download 4 movies, even though the grandfather had no knowledge. Federal, state and local prosecutors file criminal charges against people for illegally downloading a few movies, or for hacking a legally purchased DVD to run on a Linux machine.

I say return the favor. Criminally prosecute Sony Corp. and its officers on spyware charges. Any waiver or consent in this case is invalid as a minor lacks the capacity to contract. Even if grandson was of legal age, the waivers and notices are so vague and amibiguous as to be misleading and thus legally null and void.

Put a few CEOs in the slammer and the industry will get the message: you can protect your intellectual property, but you must use legal means which do no more than is absolutely necessary. Drive-by shootings of computer users won't cut it.

Is Patrick Fitzgerald done with Scooter Libby yet? Put him on the case!

Posted by: W | November 10, 2005 12:11 PM | Report abuse

Sorry to tell all you people out there, but money is power. That is the way the world works. Sony is no different, then who have the money make the rules.
For one I have a Sony laptop and I love it, it is by far better then the HP,Dell, or Gateways that I have owned. I used to hate Sony, I thought they were to expensive and that might be the case with some people. But you get what you pay for, I have had my Sony laptop for over a year now and I have never had a seconds trouble with it. Seriously not one. The only problem I have found is they do no ship your laptops with the Windows CDs anymore and I think that is crap because they say the price is what it is at because of the Windows that is included with it. So i think that should change. But I have no problem with Sony, if they keep making good product that are reliable people are going to continue to buy them. Come one what grown man doesn't want a Playstation 3?? Stop complaining and live your life, its to short to worry about little thing that you can changejust by not buying it if you don't want to. Got to work and do something go with your time!

Posted by: Matt | November 10, 2005 12:14 PM | Report abuse

Please do not buy any CD's that is the only way to stop this crazyness. Do not go to movies - only after the revenue stream comes elswhere will they move on.

Posted by: DRM_FU | November 10, 2005 12:17 PM | Report abuse

Here's another novel idea -- start paying for music instead of stealing other peoples' property. If people don't pay for music, the only musicians remaining will be the ultramarketable pop stars like Britney and Puff Daddy. Please spare the world that fate.

Posted by: Pilotbiffster | November 10, 2005 12:21 PM | Report abuse

Just stop buying Sony products. Soon, they'll get it.

Posted by: Swifter | November 10, 2005 12:37 PM | Report abuse

Just bought a 25 pack of Sony Labeled DVD-R blank discs do they also contain any undisclosed invassions. Several of those disc have my copyrighted matterial on them. If so- "In what form are they editing my work?"

Posted by: Michael L. | November 10, 2005 12:40 PM | Report abuse

Another novel idea;
Stop buying music CD's from Sony BMG or any other company That insists on this kind of copy protection. As stated by Pilotbiffster 'start paying for music instead of stealing other peoples' property' is fine idea but what of the legal users they also get stung and that is not right.

Posted by: Fireball | November 10, 2005 12:44 PM | Report abuse

This is why all this stuff should be free. A bunch of one and zeros aren't actually worth anything. For instance if I could make a million copies of something without any effort then what is that object really worth? The short answer is nothing. If I spend thousands of dollars downloading music and my computer crashes I lose everything. That is because I didn't actually have anything to begin with. If you make a product (Actually produce something physical) then you should be able to copyright it. You can't copyright ones and zeros and trying to is just plain silly.

Posted by: Reed | November 10, 2005 12:48 PM | Report abuse

Thanks to everyone who is keeping the discussion going with their comments. But please -- keep them relatively clean. Otherwise, they will be deleted. Thanks!

Posted by: Bk | November 10, 2005 12:53 PM | Report abuse

To Michael L -- Just spottted this helpful hint over at at a post on Slashdot. If you are wondering whether you actually have this Sony anti-piracy software/rootkit installed on your machine or not, the following should help:

1) If you're not using windows, you're fine.

2) Create a file on your desktop ('test.txt' should be fine). Rename the file to '$sys$test.txt'.

3) If the file is gone, you're vulnerable.

Posted by: Bk | November 10, 2005 12:56 PM | Report abuse

Pilotbiffster: You don't have to do anything illegal to have the rootkit downloaded. You get it even if you purchase the CD legally and just try play it on your PC without copying it. See David Pogue's NYT column today at

And as Security Fix in the Post says, hackers have already exploited this rootkit. So we can add aiding and abetting to the list of charges.

As for Matt: Excusing Sony because it makes good products is like excusing Merck from liability for Vioxx because Merck makes a good drugs. Get on with your life? Wait till a hacker in Eastern Europe uses the Sony rootkit to steal your ID. Will complain to the authorities or just "get on with your life?"

Sony will smile and let this whole thing pass. And later will try to pull off a similar stunt. Criminal prosecution is the ONLY way to get their attention.

Posted by: W | November 10, 2005 12:59 PM | Report abuse

Sony has officially made it safer to steal files over the net than to legally buy it!!

They are just attempting to keep an inflated market price that is not at a free market equilibrium point. I bought my 1st CD in 1995 for $14.00, all other technology based industries have reduced cost to compete (what was a computer worth then verse now?) They just have too much EMPIRE to feed and need to realize that anyone with a few thousand bucks can start a recording label and produce and market their own (or other's) content for much less. All they are protecting is a large marketing / production / distribution network that the internet can and has started to replace. My "Make / Buy" brake point cost is when the blank media + my opportunity cost (time and equipment deprecation) make it better to buy than make. At this point I would pay $4.00 to get a CD that I want with the artwork. I would still rip to my hard drive and use it where and how I want.

Bottom line, they are a dying old technology and they know it, but they are using their shear size and power to continue to breath. Death is near, look at General Motors!!

Posted by: Johnny Boy | November 10, 2005 1:04 PM | Report abuse

It would really be great to have a system where people could rate the usefulness of comments. Much like's

Alas, this is only the comment section on a blog. Nothing more.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 10, 2005 1:08 PM | Report abuse

I whole-heartedly agree that SonyBMG needs to experience a boycott, and I hope word gets out there enough that this happens. And a bunch of lawsuits sounds good to me too.

I wonder what effect this event will have on the relationship between Congress and the big media, which is the heart of the problem. As anyone who cares knows, Congress is entirely bought and paid for by these companies, on both sides of the aisle too. If the companies want legislation passed, Congress finds a way to make it happen. Thus we have the law that may allow Sony's current actions, and also an effectively permanent closure of the Public Domain. (Not many people know that virtually NO recordings are in the Public Domain, not even cylinders from the 1890's).

The only way that this relationship will change is if enough voters make enough trouble for congress members that they have to ignore their big-money friends. And that has to be a LOT of voters. I am pessimistic that this threshold can be crossed.

Posted by: james | November 10, 2005 2:04 PM | Report abuse

Lawyers Drooling Everywhere.

Hey if Sony's program infected a government machine, is that an act of electronic tresspass?

Some shmoe working at a government office innocently listens to a Sony CD and all the sudden the red lights start flashing!

Does that make Sony an 'Enemy Combatant!" guilty of treason?

Posted by: Ann Oyed | November 10, 2005 3:37 PM | Report abuse

A Sony boycott by your readers is a laugh: They all steal their music anyway. (Shoplifters are not "customers" and therefore cannot boycott.)

Posted by: JDS | November 10, 2005 5:02 PM | Report abuse

JDS is an idiot.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 10, 2005 6:39 PM | Report abuse

Yes I agree, JDS is an idiot.

First, Sony dosn`t just make music! Second, we don`t all steal music!
Third, A Sony boycott is the only legal way for consummers to fight back.

Boycott Blue-Ray, go HD-DVD!!!!! Hurt them where it hurts .... in the wallet.

Posted by: Dario | November 11, 2005 4:48 AM | Report abuse

Here's the story from ZDNet that is referenced above:

Posted by: Ben | November 11, 2005 10:14 AM | Report abuse

If you really want to make a statement, don't just not buy Sony (and especially don't download their music illegally).

The real thing to do is to support musicians outside of Sony, the RIAA, etc. Too many people assumed that if a band isn't signed to a major label, they must not be good. The people that tend to say "The music these days is crap" are usually the same ones that haven't gone looking outside of commercial radio, mtv, and all of that to find the good stuff being produced.

Check out services like eMusic, Magnatune and others. eMusic is 25cents a song and has tons of indy labels and stuff like user ratings and lists to help find good stuff (and no DRM). Magnatune is an online label where you have a sliding scale on how much you want to pay, with 50% going to the artist. Can also preview all songs and have more variety of music formats.

Those are just two services.. I'm sure there are others out there. These guys are doing things the right way and if they get support, they can continue to grow while the majors stumble. If all you do is pirate the majors, you're still letting them frame the entire discussion and industry.

Posted by: Shawn | November 11, 2005 1:25 PM | Report abuse

What Sony BMG has done, and the callousness and arrogance displayed by their top management when their misdeeds were first made public, have caused Sony to lose all credibility in my eyes. On top of the near-criminal actions cited in this article, Sony may also have engaged in anti-competitive behavior: it has been widely reported that Windows users who purchased the infected CDs were unable to transfer the music files to their iPods.

Does Sony acually expect consumers to trust their highly-touted Blu-Ray technology after this PR disaster? Why should we ever trust Sony again, when they have shown such utter contempt for the very customers they ought to be wooing?

Posted by: GES | November 11, 2005 2:13 PM | Report abuse

Paradoxically, this will make people *less* inclined to buy their cd's. Once you poison trust in the product (and trust in the brand), sales will suffer.

I prefer to buy my music. But now I'm not so sure. At least downloaded music I can virus-check. Legitimately purchased music now runs the risk of messing up my machine. Maybe I should switch to file sharing... it looks to be safer at this point.

Posted by: Mark Hammond | November 11, 2005 3:09 PM | Report abuse

Boycotts are nice, lawsuits are better, but criminal prosecution is best. Won't happen with the federal government in the hands it's in now, but maybe some ambitious, attention-hungry state DA can get the ball rolling? The only way an outfit like Sony will learn is, if they are hurt badly enough.

On a marginally related note, about a year ago I bought a little Sony bookshelf stereo. Three months after I got it, the CD player failed. I've got CD drives in one or two PC's that still work fine after years of service. So between that and this recent software sleaziness, I'll never buy anything with the Sony logo ever again.

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