09 January 2005

BMG infected my PC!

vi·rus ('vI-r&s) n.:
4 : a computer program usually hidden within another seemingly innocuous program that produces copies of itself and inserts them into other programs and that usually performs a malicious action (as destroying data)
-Merriam Webster Dictionary
Let me begin by saying that BMG can take their digital rights management (DRM) and place it in a location that only a colonoscopy will reveal. Let me explain.

Sharon and I own iPods. Mine already has 6 GB of music on it. A few are songs I've purchased from iTunes. The rest I've ripped from my CD collection. I make a point of owning all the music I listen to. A few times I've ripped someone else's CD to see if I like it. If I do, I buy it. I see this as a more effective way of borrowing their CD. Now I know the RIAA may disagree me on this, but I believe I am making fair use of this music. I paid for one digital recording of that music and that's all I every make use of.

Enter Sharon's new Velvet Revolver CD (ironically titled Contraband, on the RCA label and distributed by BMG). Like any other CD, I inserted this into the CD-ROM drive of my PC. I was immediately presented with a dialog asking me to accept a license agreement. I chose not to, because usually that means it wants to install some annoying software to view the "enhanced" portion of the CD. Typically it amounts to photos of the band and maybe a video or two. I did find that they placed Windows Media versions of the songs on the disk. However, these contained licensing that prevented me from putting them on my iPod.

They did give me a nice link to a page that basically told me I was SOL. They blamed Apple and suggested I complain to them. As much as I like to bash Apple, I have a hard time siding with a record label that prevents me from listening on the most ubiquitous digital music player out there. But it gets worse.

I tried to rip the music in a format my iPod could use, but it was garbled. A few googles later, and I found out why. When I put the CD in my computer, it automatically installed a new device driver, software that controls how Windows talks to the hardware in my PC. In this case, this new driver prevents me from ripping the music or even listening to the CD itself in my player of choice. It was installed without my knowledge or consent, and the driver is hidden by default. I have yet to find anything on the CD warning me that it would do this. Certainly there was no prominent labeling indicating that this would happen.

Which brings me to the subject of this post. Consider the following:
  • A virus is software secretly placed on your PC. This driver was installed without my knowledge or consent
  • A virus is hidden in another seemingly innocuous source. CD-ROMs drives have always been used to play audio CDs. That's why the all have earphone jacks and a volume control. No one would expect music CD would secretly install something on your PC.
  • A virus propagates itself. This driver is installed on each and every PC you insert this disk into.
  • A virus corrupts data on a PC. This driver garbles the music that I've purchased.
Based on this, I feel that this driver is a virus and my PC was infected with it.

This has pissed me off to no end. Who the hell do they think they are? Does their desire to protect their intellectual property give them the right to clandestinely install their software on my PC? I don't think so!

Do you want to know what's worse? This technology doesn't even work! The technology is called MediaMax and is sold by Suncomm (http://www.sunncomm.com, but beware, even their web site is intrusive). A Princeton grad student analyzed their technology. Once you know about their secret driver, it is relatively easy to uninstall. Then, simply holding down the SHIFT key when inserting the CD-ROM will prevent it from running at all! For anyone who really did want to steal this music, the copy protection system is an annoyance at best, despite bold claims to the contrary from Suncomm. Suncomm tried to sue this guy over the his paper, but backed down. They probably realized that their software was so lame that they didn't have a case.

A quick Google search reveals that I am not the only one pissed at BMG about this. Yet everything I've read is from someone who quickly worked around the software and ripped the music. So RCA managed to piss off their customers without actually accomplishing anything. Way to go guys!

Update: BMG is the real culprit behind this, and I updated the post accordingly.

It looks like they're treating the success of Contraband as some sort of validation of this technology. Nevermind that they've had twelve other releases whose sales were nothing special, never mind that Velvet Revolver is a "super group" formed from Guns 'n' Roses and Stone Tempel Pilots whose first release is an almost guaranteed hit, never mind that they don't even tell you what's hidden on the CD you're purchasing. No this is proof that the public is accepting of this technology.

Yeah, right. From everything I've seen, most people didn't know it was there and were pissed that they had been screwed in this way.


Rob said...

This totally sucks. The music industry's model is out of date, and their going to any means necessary to protect their material - is ludicrous. Luckily I haven't run into this with any CDs I've gotten.


Greg! said...

Jeeze, and here I thought the silly FBI badging on new CD packaging was overstated and intrusive.
Whenever I hear about the industry's latest hysterical reaction to the changing model of the music market I think of the ways major studios fought the home video market fifteen or twenty years ago. For a while, video rental was being painted as the impending death of feature films (much as TV had been in the '50s), then for a longer while still the party line seemed to be "rental is bearable, but sell-thru (i.e. videos priced to buy) is evil," or something like that. Basically, it was a combination of studios and rental companies trying to assure themselves up-front profits from what was by then the inevitable video release of most titles. Once it was itself established, the home video market then proceeded to fight first-run cable movie channels and the emerging pay-per-view market. DVDs created a whole new shitstorm.
Why is it that corporations seem to think that a capitalist consumer market is or should be a homeostatic model?
Then again, the music industry (then substanitally a publishing industry) also fought the explosion of broadcast radio at the time...

More to the point, shouldn't that Velvet Revolver CD have waited for you to accept a licensing agreement before it installed anything on your PC? Or am I just being naive here?

Andrew said...

It should have waited for me to accept the agreement. Unfortunately, the software it installed is designed to keep me from ripping. If it is not installed, I can rip to my hearts content. This is the only way they can encrypt the CD and still have it work in CD players.

If they didn't want the OK dialog, then it should have had a big huge label on the case warning me that inserting it into my PC would immediately install a driver that prevents direct playback of the CD. Of course, such a full disclosure to the purchaser would probably hurt sales of the CD.