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Sony settles 'rootkit' DRM suit and promises to play nicely

Sony BMG’s handling of the DRM “Rootkit” fiasco was one of the corporate public relations disasters of 2005, but now Sony has attempted to draw a line under the affair by offering a settlement, which if accepted, could end the majority of cases against the company in the States.

Sony BMG’s use of controversial copy protection technology that employed “rootkit” techniques more commonly associated with hackers left numerous personal computers vulnerable to hacker attacks.

Slow to grasp the magnitude of problem, and the scale of discontent amongst the music buying public, Sony BMG reluctantly agreed to recall the offending XCP-infected CDs but not in time to stop a number of lawsuits being launched in countries as far apart as the States and Italy.

As part of the proposed settlement, which still needs court approval, US owners of the DRM affected CDs can return them to Sony in exchange for $7.50 and a free album download, or a choice of three free album downloads from a list of 200 – as an interesting aside that would seem to mean that record companies value an album download at $3.75 yet they continually complain that $0.99 cents per track is not enough.

This compensation seems laughably small, but this might not be the most significant aspect of the settlement (opens in new tab) as Sony has promised to abide by new restrictions governing the use of copy protection software in the United States until at least 2008.

These include fully disclosing on the packaging the full nature and restrictions imposed by the DRM technology on the CD and the promise not to install any software without the user accepting the End User License Agreement, which must clearly disclose in plain English any copy protection measures.

On the security side, the media giant says it will also consult experts on the potential security risks from future copy protection software and not make consumers jump through hoops to get an uninstaller program.

For the first time consumers will have rights, when it comes to the use of copy protection software, something that the media giants have had in the bucket load with legislation such as US DCMA act, and about time to.

Notably, however, Sony BMG has refused to recall CDs using other controversial SunnComm MediaMax DRM technology and this settlement does nothing for those unfortunate users who were affected but live outside the States.

Nor does the settlement address the fundamental problems with DRM software, which just hinders and frustrates legitimate users rather then the large scale pirates. Unless the record companies stop putting up barriers to the fair use of purchased music they risk having the argument taken away from them.

The French parliament has voted for a measure which could see a flat tax imposed on broadband users to create a digital pool of funds that would be used to compensate artists and rights holders, whilst the Australian government is considering a fair use policy (opens in new tab)that would give consumers the right to copy music or films they have purchased from one medium to another.

2006 could be an interesting year…