Sony and Digital Rights Management

Rooting around in your computer

Now, why in the world would we pick on poor, 'lil Sony? The makers of the Playstation series, a host of digital music players, and even more televisions, has always provided the market with reliable wares (cough, Walkman...hack, PlayStation 3). However, their tactical approach to defending those media products in the new age of Digital Rights Management is both a controversial and fascinating ploy.

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Sony certainly isn’t “playing fair” with its DRM rootkit
It evokes both deep interest in those who believe in copyright defense and anger in groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who seek to increase civil liberties in the tech world. Regardless, Sony's take on DRM is arousing a whole lot of unbridled political and legal attention. For this reason it's worth looking into.

So, what is Sony's big idea?

Well, the key word to remember when linking Sony with DRM might just be its use of a "rootkit". You see, a rootkit is a method of stealthily employing programs within the inner structure of a user's system. It's a nasty little procedure that is based on running processes without alerting the user. Although Sony is using such tactics to ensure that everyone is playing by its rules when it comes to making handouts of its music, the measures it is taking open up a whole new can of worms.

You see, Sony is installing the rootkit on computers without anyone realizing it. Even Internet veterans are finding that they've installed the nosey little bugger long afterwards, and that kind of newfound awareness is often startling, and in many cases, maddening. For one, this is a major electronics company, record label, and entertainment powerhouse. Why would they do this to users? For many who have been hit by the rootkit or Sony's new DRM principles, the feeling is that this is illegal activity, on par with some of the sketchiest spyware abusers on the worldwide web. This is bad company for Sony, and hardly good for business.

So, why exactly is Sony being such a pain?

You see, Sony has its own little idea of how often you should be making copies of its music wares. It has set a rather arbitrary limit of three for the average listener, meaning that if you burn the CD of an artist under the Sony BMG music label more than three times, you're ticking them off. The rootkit is there to report back to Sony on such activity. The company itself has reportedly referred to the action as a "fence" or "speed bump" to, at the very least, slow down users who violate their rules.

Do you find this scary? Well, it is, especially considering the fact that most IT pros are having trouble getting rid of Sony's little present. Critics have alleged that the rootkit is almost impossible to remove without permanently bunging up the Windows operating system. Additionally, the hole the rootkit digs for itself can be easily exploited by hackers. It's like stealing a car (bad enough) and then donating it to the Jackass guys (really bad). There's a chance your computer will never be the same as it was before Sony came along.

Of course, these are some hypothetical circumstances. In all likelihood, Sony won't mess up your computer and a hacker probably won't drill the registry with a program to delete all of those pictures of your mom in the Cayman Islands. But, it is a sign of the new direction being taken by some of the industry's most recognized and trusted companies.