There’s been much written recently about Sony BMG’s inclusion of a rootkit in some of their copy-protected CDs (for more information, see Mark Russinovich’s SysInternals blog). Indeed, it’s now being reported that our friendly global monopolist (Microsoft, not Sony) is going to remove the rootkit from our PCs via Windows Defender (formerly Windows AntiSpyware).
What I fail to understand is the need for all of this. Last year I had problems with a copy protected CD from BMG that wouldn’t play in my car CD player (actually, it wasn’t technically a CD as it didn’t follow the standards for Compact Discs, but was another 120mm polycarbonate plastic disc masquerading as a CD to prevent illegal copying). BMG offered to replace it if I could supply proof of purchase but I’d already shredded the receipt and anyway, I changed cars a few days later and it worked in the new player.
I buy my CDs for around Â£8.99 from play.com (or sometimes in the local supermarket). EMI, a major competitor to Sony BMG, is reporting massive rises in digital music sales, but at the same time says traditional CD sales are down. But consider this – most CDs in the UK have around 12 tracks. If, instead of buying a physical CD, I licensed the tracks from iTunes, that would be Â£9.48, there would be no media or distribution costs (and I’d be restricted as to the number of devices on which I could play them). With analysts predicting that by 2009, 25% of music sales will be online, that sounds like increased profits to me. Sure there will be some piracy eating into that, but it’s not a new problem. In the ’80s, I (like many of my peers) used to record the top 40 on tape because I didn’t have the funds that today’s teenagers do to buy records (for the kids reading this, a record is an old-fashioned term for a music disc – they used to be larger, usually black – but coloured or picture discs were very sought after – and needed a special player with a needle…).
So do we really need all this copy protection? After all, it’s only a matter of time before some hacker finds a way around it. What we need is universal (no pun intended) access to legal music downloads (no Apple iTunes nonsense whereby you can only buy from the store in the country where your credit card is registered). With sensible pricing, sensible licensing, and a reasonable proportion finding its way to the artist (i.e. not the web site owner or the record company) then maybe people will buy more music, especially with all the bad press about security that peer-to-peer file sharing networks get. Stranger things have happened…