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Sony’s Digital Rights Mis-Management

Sony DRMThe other day I purchased a CD that ended up making me angry. Not because the music is angry in any sense, not because the music disappointed, but more because of Sony BMG’s ridiculous Digital Rights Management (DRM).

Unknowingly, I had purchased a disc that included copy protection software that not only limits the amount of times you can copy the CD, but also forces you to use a protected Windows Media audio format if you’d like to copy your music to your computer - which makes it extremely difficult to copy the CD to your iTunes music library, and ultimately, your iPod.

Now, of course I wasn’t looking for the little box on the back of the disc that warned me that the CD was protected. I’ve never run into this with any other CD before, so I don’t look for it. Now, I will.

<rant> The most upsetting part about this is that Sony BMG has made an outright decision to alienate 80% of portable music player market that Apple, the iPod and iTunes have so deservedly earned. What’s more is that Sony has the audacity to then blame it’s decision on Apple, saying that because Apple will not license it’s DRM policies to record companies, Apple has ‘forced the hand’ of the record companies.

Think about it, Apple is not licensing their DRM policies to record companies to protect their own business. If they started making their DRM methods available to other companies, the possibilities for competition will be endless. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t see Sony licensing their WEGA technology to other companies like Samsung so that they can make a better TV than Sony. So what is Samsung to do, claim that because their 50” Plasma doesn’t have a WEGA viewing engine that Sony has ‘forced their hand’ ??? I think not.

This is just a case of Sony wanting so badly to protect their music (which the do have a right to do) that they will go to extreme lengths to make sure no one copies their CDs. The problem is, people like me who buy CDs are not out to rip Sony off, otherwise, we wouldn’t have bought the CDs in the first place. There are plenty enough way that we could just download the songs illegally and make our own CDs. It’s kind of a slap in the face of their consumers. I should be able to buy a CD and listen to it on my iPod, no hassles, and no questions asked.</rant>

What’s more is that the software that gets installed on your computer is, for all intents and purposes, a virus. Not that it specifically does any harm, but it installs Root Kit software on your PC as soon as you insert the CD that could open up security holes in your system. Root Kits are basically software that disguises itself on your PC. Hackers and virus programmers use Root Kits all the time. I didn’t know this at first, but when looking for ways that I could remove the software, I found this article, which made me even more upset. Sony does have support forms that you can fill out on their website to eventually remove the Root Kit, but it’s a long drawn out process and requires you to run an ActiveX control to remove it, further increasing the security risks.

I usually go to great lengths to make sure my PC is secure. I do not appreciate Sony installing virus-like software on my computer without my consent. I mean, this software doesn’t even wait for you to accept an agreement before it installs, it just installs on it’s own when the CD autoplays. They should make you fully aware of what gets installed on your computer. It’s times like these that I wish I had a Mac. (As this doesn’t affect Macs because Sony’s software is only PC enabled). Honestly, I’m surprised that someone hasn’t filed a class-action against them.

It’s not just consumers that are outraged with Sony’s antics when it comes to protected content. Even the bands that get stuck with selling these copy protected CDs are fed up with it. Tim Foreman from the band Switchfoot even went as far as posting a message on their official discussion forums about how dissapointed he was when they found out that their latest CD was copy protected. He further went on to explain exactly how to get around the copy protection. That’s something I really admire. They have enough respect for their fans that they’ll do what’s best for them, even if it means taking some heat from the record company. The post, becasue their forums are hosted by Sony, has since been taken off the forum, but has been mirrored by several sites.

Here’s the full text of Tim Foreman’s post:

Hello friends,
my heart is heavy with this whole copy-protection thing. Many PC users have posted problems that they have had importing the new songs (regular disc only, not the dual disc) into programs such as Itunes. Let me first say that as a musician AND as a music fan, I agree with the frustration that has been expressed. We were horrified when we first heard about the new copy-protection policy that is being implemented by most major labels, including Sony (ours), and immediately looked into all of our options for removing this from our new album. Unfortunately, this is the new policy for all new major releases from these record companies. It is heartbreaking to see our blood, sweat, and tears over the past 2 years blurred by the confusion and frustration surrounding this new technology. It is also unfortunate when bands such as ourselves, Foo Fighters, Coldplay, etc… (just a few of the new releases with copy protection) are the target of this criticism, when there is no possible way to avoid this new industry policy.

For mac users these songs should import seamlessly. We are told that itunes is coming out with a new version for PC users in early November that will be compatible with all of these new CD’s but in the meantime it’s frustrating for all of us. That said, there are a number of solutions (as is always the case with these types of things) for importing the CD into your itunes and ipod. We have compiled some of the easier ways below. I feel like as a band and as listeners, we’ve all been through a lot together over the past ten years, and we refuse to allow corporate policy to taint the family we’ve developed together. We deeply regret that there exists the need for any of our listeners to spend more than 30 seconds importing our music, but we’re asking as friends and partners in this journey together to spend the extra 10 minutes that it takes to import these songs, which we think you’ll agree to be our finest collection of songs yet. As a band, we’ve always been known for having the best fans in the world and I know that will continue for years to come. A month from now, I hope to be singing these songs together at a show, and the extra time spent importing the music will perhaps be forgotten, or at least forgiven. Thank you for your understanding and the continued kindness that you have always shown for five dreamers from San Diego, we love you guys,

-tim foreman

A) If you’re a mac user, or you have access to a mac, or you purchased the dual disc, you should have no problems… simply import the songs the same way as you always do.

B) If you’re a PC user, and you haven’t yet tried to import the the disk yet, download and install a free program called CDEX from Now hold down the shift button while inserting the switchfoot CD (this disables the auto-run feature on the CD). Make sure that you hold it down until you are sure that nothing has run (maybe 60 seconds). Once the CD is loaded without auto-running it’s software, open the CDEX program, and select tracks 1-12 (Lonely Nation-Daisy), excluding data tracks 13 and 14. THen select the top icon on the right side of the program “Extract CD tracks to WAV files”. THis will extract them to your mymusic folder. Open iTunes and drag the .wav files you created into your itunes library, and you’re done, and free to convert the songs into mp3, or whatever format you wish. (If you’ve already tried to import another copy protected CD like Foo Fighters, etc…, you may already have the protection software installed on your computer, and should go to plan C.

C) If you’re a PC user, and you’ve already tried to import the the disk and accepted the auto-run installation, or don’t mind accepting the auto-run installation, place the CD into your computer and allow the Sony BM audio player on the CD to automatically start. If the player software does not automatically start, open your Windows Explorer. Locate and select the drive letter for your CD drive. On the disc you will find either a file named LaunchCD.exe or Autorun.exe. Double-click this file to manually start the player.

Once the Sony BMG player application has been launched and the End User License Agreement has been accepted, you can click the Copy Songs button on the top menu.

Follow the instructions to copy the secure Windows Media Files (WMA) to your PC. Make a note of where you are copying the songs to, you will need to get to these secure Windows Media Files in the next steps.

Once the WMA files are on your PC you can open and listen to the songs with Windows Media Player 9.0 or higher (or another fully compatible player that can playback secure WMA files, such as MusicMatch, RealPlayer, and Winamp by dragging them from wherever you saved them into Windows media player. Once they are in the Windows media player playlist you can burn the songs to a standard Audio CD by right clicking on the songs and selecting “add songs to burn list.” You can then burn the songs to a standard Audio CD. (Please note that in order to burn the files, you will need to upgrade to, or already have, Windows Media Player 9 or 10, which can be downloaded for free at

Once the standard Audio CD has been created, place this copied CD back into your computer and open iTunes. iTunes can now rip the songs as you would any normal audio CD.

I’m not sure if Sony has taken any punitive actions against Switchfoot, but they are in the process of using a different method for their DRM software that doesn’t use Root Kits. Also in the works is a non-ActiveX uninstall process. These are good steps to take, but what I don’t understand is the thinking behind using underhanded methods in the first place.


UPDATE: There is a Follow-up entry over at Sysinternals about the uninstall process of Sony’s DRM software. Also, someone has filed a class action suit against Sony, just as I thought someone would.

Posted in: Apple, Life, Technology


Globally Recognized Avatar1. LaLa Mitchell - December 29, 2006, 4:09 PM

i wish there were a simpler way of getting the cd’s you’ve already burned onto your computer onto your ipod i mean they should have a button that copies them in there ya know?… anybody feeling me out there?…

Globally Recognized Avatar2. Jonathan Eckmier - December 30, 2006, 1:17 PM

LaLa, I think I understand your concerns, but I’ve always found getting my music onto my iPod extremely easy with iTunes. The only time it’s ever been difficult for me is when the CD was copy-protected.

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