Along with lawyers, prosecutors, and furious fans, artists are joining the backlash against the label for slipping a hidden, anti-theft program into users’ computers
Van Zant’s Get Right with the Man CD was released in May, but six months later it still was doing better-than-respectable business on Amazon.com (AMZN ). The album ranked No. 887 on the online retailer’s list of music sales on Nov. 2. Then news of the CD’s aggressive content safeguards — a sub-rosa software program incorporated courtesy of Sony BMG — exploded on the Internet.
To prevent audiophiles from making multiple copies of the CDs, Sony (SNE) had programmed the Van Zant disk, and dozens of others, with a hidden code called a “rootkit” that secretly installs itself on hard drives when the CDs are loaded onto listeners’ PCs. Soon enough, hackers began designing viruses to take malicious advantage of the hidden program, and a Sony boycott had begun (see BW Online, 11/17/05, “Sony’s Copyright Overreach“).
GROWING OUTRAGE. Overnight, Get Right with the Man dropped to No. 1,392 on Amazon’s music rankings. By Nov. 22 — after the news made headlines and Sony was deep into damage control, pulling some 4.7 million copy-protected disks from the market — Get Right with the Man was even further from Amazon’s Top 40, plummeting to No. 25,802.
The wrath of fans killed Sony’s CD copy controls, with the company pulling 52 titles off retail shelves, beginning the week of Nov. 14. But the wrath of bands could be far worse for the company — and for efforts to protect content in general.