Posts filed under “Intellectual Property”

Sony Rootkit Morphs into MalWare (litigation to follow)

Don’t say Sony wasn’t warned:

The DRM Rootkit (we first discussed it here, and it was widely analyzed here)  has now been exploited  by malicious virus writers:

Here’s what The Register had to say:

Virus writers have begun taking advantage of Sony-BMG’s use of rootkit technology in DRM software bundled with its music CDs.

Sony-BMG’s rootkit DRM technology masks files whose filenames start with "$sys$". A newly-discovered variant of of the Breplibot Trojan takes advantage of this to drop the file "$sys$drv.exe" in the Windows system directory.

"This means, that for systems infected by the Sony DRM rootkit technology, the dropped file is entirely invisible to the user. It will not be found in any process and file listing. Only rootkit scanners, such as the free utility RootkitRevealer, can unmask the culprit," warns Ivan Macalintal, a senior threat analyst at security firm Trend Micro

The malware arrives attached in an email, which pretends to come from a reputable business magazine, asking the businessman to verify his/her "picture" to be used for the December issue. If the malicious payload contained in this email is executed then the Trojan installs an IRC backdoor on affected Windows systems.

Romanian anti-virus firm BitDefender confirms that the malware is in the wild but a full technical analysis of the Trojan is yet to be completed. The response of anti-virus firms, some of which have only promised to flag up rather than block system changes made by Sony-BMG’s rootkit, remains unclear.

Let the class action Litigation begin!
(hey, might this be a violation of the DMCA?)

Source:
First Trojan using Sony DRM spotted
John Leyden
The Register, Thursday 10th November 2005 13:25 GMT
http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/11/10/sony_drm_trojan/

Category: Intellectual Property

DRM Crippled CD: A bizarre tale in 4 parts

DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE:  Ever come across something that only gets stranger and stranger the deeper you delve into it? That was my experience when I almost purchased a new CD — a DRM crippled CD — this weekend. 

This tale is part of a larger struggle within the recording and digital download industry — not of P2P or piracy — but one of innovation and competition. As you follow this odd story (broken into 4 increasingly strange parts), you will note that as it gets weirder, Artists and Consumers are the collateral damage. It makes one wonder just what the hell the Recording Industry is thinking about these days:
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Part I
A friend with whom I frequently swap Music and Film suggestions (as well as mixed CDs) asks me if I have ever heard of the band "My Morning Jacket." I have not. She suggests checking out the album Z. The album is very well reviewed. So I fire up iTunes, go to the music store. The band is rather interesting, not your typical pop fare. Sounds like a cross between Morcheeba and The White Stripes. (Rolling Stone heard elements of Radiohead, The Who and Lynyrd Skynyrd). Lush, ethereal, offbeat music, mixed with some electronica, but mostly straightforward fuzzbox-driven rock-n-roll. My kind of stuff.

I hop over to Amazon to read some reviews (mostly positive). I am about to purchase the disc, when I notice the DRM info. (See Amazon DRM reviews below.)

The reviewers note that Sony has crippled the disc with Sunncomm’s latest DRM software. (You may remember Sunncomm’s infamous shift key incident). The key restriction of this particular DRM is that it renders a disc nontransferable to the iPod.
Nor can you make a backup copy, or travel discs, or a copy for the
weekend house, or use any of the songs on a mixed disc. Oh, and it won’t
work with my iTunes Music software (and that also means no shuffle
play).

Since the CD is incompatible with Apple iTunes, and the music cannot be transferred to an iPod, it eliminates about half of my legal uses for it. So I don’t buy the CD, ’cause it won’t do what I need it to do. Chalk up a lost sale to DRM.

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Part II
Here’s where our tale takes a turn for the bizarre:  According to the Band/Label’s website, these DRM restrictions were put on the CD without their knowledge or permission:

Information Regarding Our Artists’ Music, Copy-Protected CDs and your iPod
We at ATO Records are aware of the problems being experienced by certain fans due to the copy-protection of our distributor. Neither we nor our artists ever gave permission for the use of this technology, nor is it our distributor’s opinion that they need our permission. Wherever it is our decision, we will forego use of copy-protection, just as we have in the past.

That’s simply a stunner.

The loss of good will and fan support must be significant to the band. That’s a very real monetary damage to the band. (I wonder what their legal options are). It becomes even more absurd when you consider that "ATO Records permits audiotaping at our artists’ performance." So this is a very forward looking, copyright-friendly bunch of folk.

I would hope that in the future, music agents and attorneys remember to address this in label contracts on the band’s behalf.

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Part III
As odd as the story is so far, its about to get a whole lot weirder: It turns out that all Engadget (quoting Variety) notes that this DRM is not at all about making the CD immune to piracy. Instead, its part of a pissing contest between Sony and Apple:  Variety writes that "the new copy protection scheme — which makes it difficult
to rip CDs and listen to them with an iPod — is designed to put
pressure on Apple to open the iPod to other music services, rather than
making it dependent on the iTunes Music Store for downloads."

You mean to tell me that this isn’t even about P2P and unauthorized downloading? How annoying is that? Sony has their panties in a bunch cause Apple has been kicking their arses all over the innovation and digital music schoolyard? So the mature response from a major global conmsumer electronics corporation is to take their ball and go home?

DRM is now being used as a competitive economic weapon — not as an anti-piracy tool.

As a music consumer, I find this ridiculous. Why I cannot use a
legally purchased CD — because Sony is miffed at Apple for creating the
2000′s version of their Walkman — is beyond absurd. I am very, very annoyed at this. 

In fact, I am so perturbed at this act of wanton stupidity, that two imminent purchases — a Sony Bravia LCD big screen TV and the Sony Vaio notebook — are now put on hold.

So far, Sony’s lost business with me is now one CD ($10.99), one flat panel TV ($3,499) and one laptop ($3,199). That’s  lost sales of approximately $6,710. If you are a Sony shareholder, you should be as annoyed as I am.

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Part IV
I saved the absolutely weirdest part for last.

I write Suncomm to complain about this DRM. Their website encourages people to write Apple and request them to "Open up their proprietary technology."

Yeah, spare me your lectures. Just because your client failed to create a digital music player and legal downloading store, doesn’t mean that I have to get conscripted in your lobbying ploy. 

Just tell me where CD purchasers should send this crippled disc back for a refund, I ask them.

UPON RECEIPT, THEY SEND ME AN EMAIL TELLING ME HOW TO WORK AROUND THE DRM:

"If you have a PC place the CD into your computer and allow the CD to automatically start. If the CD does not automatically start, open your Windows Explorer, locate the drive letter for your CD drive and double-click on the LaunchCD.exe file located on your CD.

Once the application has been launched and the End User License Agreement has been accepted, you can click the Copy Songs button on the top menu.

Follow the instructions to copy the secure Windows Media Files (WMA) to your PC. Make a note of where you are copying the songs to, you will need to get to these secure Windows Media Files in the next steps.

Once the WMA files are on your PC you can open and listen to the songs with Windows Media Player 9.0 or higher. You may also play them in any compatible player that can play secure Windows Media files, such as MusicMatch, RealPlayer, and Winamp, but it will require that you obtain a license to do so. To obtain this license, from the Welcome Screen of the user interface, click on the link below the album art that says If your music does not play in your preferred player, click here. Follow the instructions to download the alternate license. PLEASE NOTE: This license is only necessary for playing the copied songs in a media player other than iTunes or Windows Media Player. If you are just trying to use iTunes, simply continue with these instructions.

Using Windows Media Player only, you can then burn the songs to a CD.  Please note that in order to burn the files, you need to upgrade to or already have Windows Media Player 9 or greater.

Once the CD has been burned, place the copied CD back into your computer and open iTunes. iTunes can now rip the songs as you would a normal CD."

So this entire rigamarole won’t even protect the CD contents — its merely a very annoying interference with my ability to enjoy the legal uses of a product I actually wanted to purchase.

But wait, there’s more! As if that’s not absurd enough, they remind me that none of this is necessary at all. As noted above, its nothing more than a swipe at Apple: 

"Please note an easier and more acceptable solution (to who?) requires cooperation from Apple, who we have already reached out to in hopes of addressing this issue. To help speed this effort, we ask that you use the following link to contact Apple and ask them to provide a solution that would easily allow you to move content from protected CDs into iTunes or onto your iPod rather than having to go through the additional steps above."

http://www.apple.com/feedback/ipod.html

If you think that this cannot get any dumber, you would be wrong. The coup de grace of this exercise in corporate stupidity is this:

"If you have a Mac computer you can copy the songs using your iTunes Player as you would normally do."

Words simply fail me . . .

 

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POSTSCRIPT:   October 31, 2005 6:08am

I am a buyer of CDs, and only rarelydo I download tracks from Apple’s iTunes Music Store due to sound quality.
I didn’t spend an obscene amount of money on a home audio system to
listen to the mediocre audio quality of MP3s. The
not-even-remotely-as-lossless-as-advertised-compression algorithms are
hardly any better. MP3s and iPod quality music is fine for the beach or
my commute on a train, but its something else entirely in my living
room.

My fair use: When I get a new CD, I rip it to iTunes,
then transfer the music to my iPods; I make a backup copy (in case of
loss). If I really like a disc, I make a copy for the car or the
weekend house. If the disc is "youth-friendly," I’ll make a copy for my
wife’s classroom. She teaches art, and I refuse to let her take any
more original discs to school — they have all gotten destroyed.

Incidentally, I am what the marketing people like to call an "influencer"
(i.e., think of Netflix, TiVo or Macintosh). I do not copy entire CDs for people,
but I like to expose frinds to news music — I will give them a song or two, with the recommendation that if they like
it, they purchase the artist’s disc. I use P2P to check out stuff not available
elsewhere, or to see if I want to purchase a full CD.  I also like
to make mixed playlists, which get burned for the car or for
friends who are looking to hear new music, now that radio is dead.

I believe all of the above is well within my rights as a consumer of the
CDs that I legally purchased; If someone wants to try to convince me otherwise, please take your best shot.

 

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UPDATE:  October 31, 2005 7:02 am

This morning, I did a Google News search on "My Morning Jacket: Z," and I found 147 mainstream news articles from the past 30 days.

One — only one — mentions the DRM issue:

MUSIC:  Burning the Faithful
New copy-protected CDs screw over the only honest customers the music industry has left.
Eli Messinger
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
http://www.eastbayexpress.com/Issues/2005-10-19/music/music.html

There is a large and potentially fascinating story here that you folks in the tech press/music media are overlooking . . .

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UPDATE:  November 10, 2005 1:38 pm

Here’s the biggest joke of all:  I actually got the disc, and ripped it to iTunes and the iPod — on my G5 iMac . . .

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The Amazon reviewers DRM comments are below . . .

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Why is Movie Theatre Revenue Attendance Declining?

There’s been plenty of chatter about declining movie theatrical revenue attendance. You just know the MPAA is itching to tie this onto piracy somehow and thus get some favorable legislation.

Let’s nip this one in the bud, shall we? 5 6 7 factors are hurting theater attendance:

1) Social factors eroding theater environment (talking, cell phones, babies crying, etc.); 
2) Sacrificing long term relationships with theater-goers for the increase in short term profitability (commercials, no ushers, etc.);
3) Higher quality experience elsewhere (Home theater);
4) Declining quality of mainstream movies;
5) Easily available Long Tail content alternatives (Netflix, Amazon);
6) Price;
7) Demographics: Aging babyboomers simply go out to movies less.

While content quality has indeed worsened over the years, it shouldn’t be the main concern this Summer:  As of late, there have been a spate of movies which have been either well-reviewed (Batman Begins) or had good word-of-mouth (Wedding Crashers) or incredible special effects perfectly suited to the big screen (Revenge of the Sith or War of the Worlds).

So what else might be the source of declining theatrical fortunes?

Well, how about the movie theater-going experience itself? The adventure of heading to a cineplex is becoming a less and less pleasant form of entertainment. Many of the headaches involved have been painfully detailed by Bob Lefsetz’ readers (see their ordeals below).

Note that we are not even discussing content quality at this point.

Then there are the adverts. A recent L.A.Times article – Now playing: A glut of ads — points out that even studio executives were stunned by 15 minutes of commercials theatre goers had to endure after paying their 10 bucks:

"As head of production at New Line Cinema, Toby Emmerich is not your typical moviegoer. So when he wanted to see "War of the Worlds" the other night, his choice was between seeing the film in a theater with a tub of popcorn or watching it in a screening room at Jim Carrey’s house, with a private chef handling the culinary options. Despite this seemingly loaded deck, Emmerich opted for a real theater.

"I love seeing a movie with a big crowd," he says. "But I had no idea how many obnoxious ads I’d have to endure — it really drove me crazy. After sitting through about 15 minutes of ads, I turned to my wife and said, ‘Maybe we should’ve gone to Jim Carrey’s house after all.’ "

When DreamWorks marketing chief Terry Press took her young twins to see "Robots" this year, she said, "My own children turned to me and said, ‘Mommy, there are too many commercials!’ Now, when the lights go halfway down, I’m filled with dread. The whole uniqueness of the moviegoing experience is being eroded by all the endless ads."  (emphasis added)

So while the industry laments piracy, consider if you will why going to the theatre has become so much less enjoyable than watching DVD films on your own big screen in the comfort of your home theatre.   

The theatres have adapted Radio’s disasterous Hamburger Helper approach: Short term increases in profitability in exchange for alienating your core audience, who eventually seek out a more enjoyable substitute. Quite frankly, I’m astonished the film industry has (contractually)
allowed theatre owners to degrade their copyright protected product by
diminishing the experience so dramatically.

As Radio has so painfully learned, the end result is a big fat Buh-bye!

To a large degree, this is  a zero sum game: The theatre chains losses are Best Buys’ gain; Is it any surprise that high quality home sound systems and large screen TV sales have gone through a ginormous growth spurt over the past 5 years? Even as the lowest common denominator productions falter, Netflix (and its rivals) allow home theater owners to enjoy a Long Tail orgy of DVD content. 

Yo, theatre owners, when a segment of retail electronics called HOME THEATRE explodes in sales, that is your wake up call. You seem to have been oblivous, and missed the bell ringing.

Good luck getting the toothepaste back in the tube!

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UPDATE: July 25, 2005 7:37pm
At Slate, Edward Jay Epstein explains the numbers behind decreased attendance on increased revenue. Fascinating stuff . . .

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UPDATE II: August 30, 2005 12:07pm
A weekend NYT article, titled Summer Fading, Hollywood Sees Fizzle quotes an exec as blaming the quality of flicks:

"Part of this is the fact that the movies may not have lived up to the
expectations of the audience, not just in this year, but in years prior," said
Michael Lynton, chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment, which had some flops
this summer, including the science fiction action movie "Stealth"
and the romantic comedy "Bewitched."
"Audiences have gotten smart to the marketing, and they can smell the good ones
from the bad ones at a distance."

 

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Sources:
Now Playing: A Glut Of Ads
The Big Picture
Patrick Goldstein
L. A. Times, July 12, 2005
http://www.latimes.com/business/custom/admark/la-et-goldstein12jul12,1,35978.story

Lefstz Letter
June 5, 2005
(complete sourcing below)

Summer Fading, Hollywood Sees Fizzle
By SHARON WAXMAN
NYTimes, August 24, 2005
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/24/movies/24slum.htm

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Continue to see Lefsetz’ readers critique of the theater experience . . .

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