Oh, Sony

A few days ago, I ripped MP3 tracks of the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club album Howl to my computer, transferring it to my MP3 player with the hope of listening to it during my trip home for Thanksgiving.

As I had been looking forward to digging deeper into each individual track via headphones, I was startled to find that my chance at an intimate listen would be denied, with “Weight of the World” sounding more like a wrestler’s knee on a weakling’s windpipe. I chalked it up to a botched MP3 rip and vowed to resolve it when I got home.

But a certain evil corporation had plans to thwart my attempts. Let’s call that company… Sony.

I tried ripping the CD several more times, using almost every program at my disposal. Each one sounded like drowning cats underwater. When a mysterious program box for something called MediaMax popped up after loading the CD, it became clear: the disc was copy protected.

DRM: thy name is Sony.

For every good decision Sony makes (releasing most of their Blu-ray discs without region locks, popularizing RPG games with the PlayStation), they make numerous boners (the 1998 box office toilet Godzilla, the baffling PSP ads, exploding laptop batteries). And this was a huge boner.

Sony loves Digital Rights Management software and practice (DRM). They love it so much that about three years ago, the nefarious corporation was busted for shipping CDs that installed undetectable rootkits on computers that hid Registry keys and other system objects various diagnostic and security software. In other words, they wanted to defeat users of and monitor who was trying to burn their music through installing malware on their machines.

As I am a legitimate owner of the album, this pissed me off, as now I have to find how to protect my computer from whatever threats may try and exploit the potential security holes that are now on my system. But this is not the first nor last time that Sony has been called out on their DRM usage — foreshadowing its usage as early as 2000, and continuing with their Blu-Ray high-definition disc media format.

The reasoning by many corporations for using DRM on its products is to protect said products from being illegally copied, allowing multiple people to gain free access to intellectual property without paying for it. While it’s noble that businesses want to guard what is theirs, some — like Sony, Apple and Wal-Mart — took it too far, yanking privileges from users who downloaded files protected by DRM if no longer used with their services. This understandably frustrated users who thought they paid for a file to use as they saw fit.

It’s that type of thinking that moves these companies from greedy to cartoon villain-like.

Consumers were not happy with DRM music, and they sought alternatives. Listening to complaints, Amazon rolled out DRM-free music in their MP3 store last year, and it made enough of an impact that Apple ushered DRM-free MP3s to their iTunes store. Consumers made their mark, and it has changed the direction of digital music sales for the foreseeable future.

However, like a classic album that stands the test of time, so does the effects of DRM .. protected music. Even now, if people were to attempt to listen to one of the many afflicted CDs on their computer, they are opening a can of security-hacking, malware-enriched worms that cannot be undone. That is not the legacy that the musicians had in mind when creating the music they hoped to produce for the masses. And now, like the mediocre, bloody remains of the Guns ‘N Roses tribute band Velvet Revolver, that legacy is tarnished — whether Sony meant it or not.

Which leads me to say, as I usually do:

Oh, Sony.

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