Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

Sony Responds to My Santana Inquiry

By Dennis D. McDonald


A while back I tried to find out from Sony whether the new Santana album contained the dreaded "rootkit" software. I documented my research here and here.

I have now received an emailed answer from "John" at the Sony Support Group. "John" is the same person I corresponded with months ago when I was trying to find out why it was so difficult to determine which CD's being sold online are copy protected (and therefore unplayable on certain common playback devices).

In today's email from Sony, sent to me in response to a logged inquiry about the new Santana album, explicit instructions are provided on replacing and/or removing the offending software. A variety of web addresses are provided including Sony as well as an address for First 4 Internet Ltd. that provides a downloadable "service pack" that includes the following note:

Please note, Service Pack 2a is a maintenance release designed to reduce the file size of Service Pack 2. It includes all previous fixes found in Service Pack 1 and Service Pack 2.

I suppose that I should be grateful that Sony has responded to my inquiry, but I'm not. As I read through the email with its details of "download this" and "download that," I could feel my blood boiling again about what Sony and the other big companies are doing to destroy music distribution through their shortsighted, overlapping, incompatible, dangerous, and ultimately ineffective copy-restriction technologies.

But there is a glint of humor in all this! Those following this sad sequence of events realize that the album I inquired about does NOT use First 4 Internet's XCP copy restriction technology. It uses Sunncomm's copy restriction! (Go here for an updated list of the titles currently being restricted through use of Sunncomm's technology.)

OK, let's assume sending out this email was a legitimate error. I never bought a rootkit infected title, and I have not bought the new Santana album. And I may never buy another Sony product again.

But my heart does go out to "John" and all the other Sony BMG staff members, administrators, clerks, customer service reps, technicians, secretaries, warehouse workers, and everyone else who will have to pick up the pieces for this astoundingly wrongheaded exercise in anti-customer behavior.

As I've suggested elsewhere, treating the worldwide market for under-$20 music CD's as if the purchasers were well-behaved members of a corporate intranet or inhouse network, where at least a modicum of architectural standardization, maintenance, and control exists is, to put it in technical terms, bone-headed inappropriate. Then to publish multiple versions of an intended repair software and to send de-installation instructions to the wrong people is, well, even more bone-headed inappropriate.

So I do feel sorry for the people who will have to support this ugly mopping up exercise. They didn't ask for this nastiness, especially since their employers are continuing to do things that will help ensure that CD sales continue to slip.

Addendum December 7, 2005

Curses! The electronic Frontier Foundation and Sony jointly announced on December 6 there is a software security vulnerability with the new Santana album's DRM; the list of affected titles is available here.


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