Defeating DRM: from marker pen to sticky tape

Sony BMG’s ‘rootkit’ XCP copy protection system has been an unmitigated public relations disaster.

Sony has reluctantly agreed to recall and replace the offending CDs after a barrage of criticism from angry users and concerned security experts that the ‘rootkit’ technology posed a security risk.

The ultimate irony of this whole sorry episode maybe, however, that the digital rights management (DRM) software can be defeated with ….. a thin piece of sticky tape.

Yep, Sony it has seen its name dragged through the mud all for the sake of a piece of copy protection software that your average home user can defeat with just the smallest bit of knowledge.

According to analysts at Gartner, a fingernail-sized piece of opaque tape attached to the outer edge of the disc causes the CD player to skip the session on the CD with the DRM software data, and skip straight to the music. It seems very little has changed since the stories a couple of years back of CD DRM systems being beaten by using a $0.99 marker pen.

“After more than five years of trying, the recording industry has not yet demonstrated a workable DRM scheme for music CDs. Gartner believes that it will never achieve this goal as long as CDs must be playable by stand-alone CD players,” says Gartner in its research note.

Given that Sony’s latest attempt was such a miserable failure where will the record companies go now? Well it seems likely, and Gartner agrees, that they will lobby technology manufacturers increasingly hard to build DRM into their systems.

Open source software anyone?