Archive for the ‘ShinyDisk Watch’ Category

Sony Rootkit update

June 22nd, 2006 by Reinder

Perfect Porridge has a few words to say on the Sony Rootkit settlement. Seems that after selling their customers spyware-infested "CDs", offering a "removal solution" that forced users to jump through hoops to get control of their PCs back and in the end made things worse, and finally being forced to replace the defective products and compensate users, they have found a way to further compound the annoyance they've caused:

Remember in late 2005 when Sony put out CDs that contained malicious rootkit spyware that infiltrated their "paying" customers' computers and left huge gaping holes for hackers?

Remember how the patch they issued actually opened up larger holes? And then remember that the final patch actually used stolen copyrighted code, no less?

Well, we're sorry to say, we fell victim to the Sony scam. And over the past 230 days (as of today, 6/20/06), we've had more than 20 back and forth e-mails with Sony Customer Service, more than 4 hours logged on the phone and still have not had our case settled.

Throughout the course of this, we actually saved other Sony customers many headaches. We single-handedly discovered the toll-free customer support line number on their DRM Web site was disconnected. We single-handedly pointed out they weren't mailing the list of available settlement albums to customers who wanted to use iTunes (not the SonyCONNECT service, which they strongly push- like we'll ever use Sony again, right). We also persisted where many would give up, as countless CSRs transferred us around the country - treating us like we were inconveniencing them.

(Via)

Consumer warning: Transmission records

June 5th, 2006 by Reinder

Mithandir reports:

I hereby implore you NOT TO BUY ANY albums produced by the Transmission Records label. The reason? Copy protection.

See, I don't own a CD player. I got a PC with a good sound card and good speakers and I have a portable mp3 player. So the first thing I do when I legally buy a CD is rip the tracks to mp3's so I can actually listen to them. But now I have two CD's that ... well I can't listen to them. Oh sure, they put a bunch of 128kbps encoded wma's on the CD too, but my portable player can't understand those and while my PC does, they are of crap quality with a tonal range more usually associated with early 30's sound recordings. 1830's at that.

On top of that, the CD runs a 2.2 Mb autorun.exe file when you insert it into your PC. This starts up WMP to play the wma's.... right ...

Look, I'm a programmer. You don't need a 2.2 Mb .exe (and some additinoal DLL's, data files and configuration files) if all you're doing is starting a program. Heck, you don't need a .exe at all. So they're doing something else there and they're not telling what.

Oh, also there is NO indication on the box that a copy protection system is used in these. The only external indication is a small logo on the CD itself (which you all know they take out in the CD store to prevent theft so you only get to see that after buying the CD). This logo sits right underneath the official "Compact Disc digital audio" logo. I'm not a lawyer, but Reinder informs me that it is illegal for a CD with copy protection to bear that logo.

About that last paragraph: we've been discussing the problem in IRC and I've been trying, unsuccesfully, to help Mith get those tracks to his computer. How well "Copy Protection" works depends on what combination of OS and CD-ROM firmware is running. There's a good chance that I might be able to rip these CDs by simply sticking the CD into my iBook, or by installing my old 16-speed CD-ROM player into my PC.

Anyway, I don't know much about the legal intricacies of logo-compliance, but what I've read over the past few years is that Phillips, who own the CD audio format patent will only licence it to, and allow the old Compact Disc Digital Audio label to be used by, labels that put out CDs that comply strictly to their standards, which do not include "copy protection&quot measures. I don't know if any lawsuit on this issue was ever brought to completion, but my belief as a reasonably well-informed layperson is that Transmission are in breach of Phillips patents and, at the very least, morally culpable of defrauding their customers, as well as harrassing them with malware and selling them a broken product. Don't reward these practices with your money.

By the way... why do pre-ripped tracks on CDs and DVDs always have to be so bad? I got some awful ones included with Ian Gillan's recent Gillan's Inn album, and it seemed to be that there was no reason for them to be as badly done as they were; they were there as bonus tracks on an otherwise excellent dual-disc package, not as a consolation prize for customers bamboozled into buying a defective, "copy-protected" disc. And the filesizes weren't particularly small. Is there someone who does the pre-ripping for all record companies and who happens to be deaf?

I knew where to stick it where no-one would nick it – right back in the bin!

March 4th, 2006 by Reinder

Continental European Deep Purple fans: Do not buy the Tour Edition of Rapture of the Deep by Deep Purple until the harmfulness of its "copy protection" is established.

Even though I already own a copy on vinyl, I'd been eagerly awaiting the Tour Edition of Deep Purple's Rapture of the Deep, because there's a whole CD full of bonus material including several live tracks. (BTW, I've warmed a lot to the record since my initial review.) Today, I finally saw it in the shops, but as I was waiting in line at the checkout, I noticed a "Copy Protected - Not Playable On PC" on the back, with a logo that I hadn't seen before, so I put it back.

80% of all my music listening is done on either the iBook or the home PC, which means that the "Copy Protection" (assuming it works at all) reduces the value of that bonus CD from € 19.90 (the price at which I was willing to buy it before noticing the logo) to € 4. And that assumes that the "Copy Protection" doesn't affect playback on my DVD player or Diskman (which "Copy Protection" on CDs invariably does in my experience), and that it isn't some sort of rootkit-based crap that would try to compromise my computers (they're likely to be immune but who knows), which would give the disc a negative value. So back into the bins it goes, and I'm warning Deep Purple fans in continental Europe to be very cautious with this disc, and, when in doubt, not to buy it. Does anyone know if the UK edition is clean?

A Proposal

If music magazines want to be useful to the listeners, they should incorporate the playability of the sound containers into their reviews, and cap the final star rating of CDs that have software compromising playback on them. I suggest that CDs claiming to have "Copy Protection" on them should never get more than three stars out of five; that CDs which are proven to have playback problems should never get more than two out of five; that CDs that are actually unplayable on a computer should never get more than one out of five, and that rootkit CDs and similarly dangerous items should get a big red zero and a warning under the review. That is about the degree by which the listener's enjoyment of the product is capped as well.

Update (March 20, 2006): Responses from the Highway Star Blog indicate that the "Copy Protection" doesn't prevent much of anything, so Edel records merely wasted their money. I've also noticed that the regular CD edition had the same "Copy Protection", at least in the Netherlands. Good thing I got the vinyl version instead. Meanwhile, both the regular and the Tour edition are available on BitTorrent, as are several bootlegged concerts.
Actually, the economics of record manufacture suggest that bootlegs are much more likely to suffer from file sharing than legitimate records. After all, bootleg CDs are more expensive and harder to find than regular CDs, and most of them don't offer the added benefits of good or even coherent artwork and that warm fuzzy feeling of giving 3% of what you just spent to the recording artists. Also, most of them are already of low quality even on CD so the quality loss inherent in converting the songs to MP3 won't make much of a difference. As Bittorrent offers nearly cost-free distribution, much-bootlegged bands like Deep Purple could finally put the bootleggers out of business by converting soundboard recordings from their concerts to MP3s and sharing them. There would, I am sure, still be a market for properly-mixed DVDs with good video quality even among those who have already downloaded the concerts in MP3 form.

Sony Rootkit clearinghouse

November 10th, 2005 by Reinder

You may have heard of the scandal over Sony Music's crippling of several of its CDs with rootkit software (essentially, a powerful Trojan Horse that will get installed on your Windows PC if you autorun the CD). The Electronic Frontier Foundation has an article up with an explanation of why the technology is damaging to your PC, a list of CDs known to be infected and a quick tutorial on how to recognise possibly-infected CDs. There's a second article discussing the 3000-word End User License Agreement (I love the word "Agreement" in this context. You "agree" by unwrapping the CD, and thanks to the good people in the computing industry, we no longer even notice how Orwellian that is) that comes with those CDs, and how it compares with the rights CD buyers have traditionally had.

The US edition of the latest Kate Bush album does not have the rootkit, but based on how Sony treats its customers I would advise American fans to import the album from Europe or Canada. EMI, who still release Kate's work in those territories, are no saints in this regard either, but I believe they've already learned the hard way that this sort of thing is Just Not On.

(Via Jon Mandle at Crooked Timber)

Update: Listeners in the Netherlands take note. According to an article in Webwereld, Sony still wants to roll out the rootkit technology on CDs released in the Netherlands. You may want to start boycotting them now, just to be sure.

Lais – Douce Victime

February 13th, 2005 by Reinder

Almost a year ago, I refused to buy Douce Victime by Flemish sirens Lais because it was on one of those shiny non-CD CDs that EMI puts out routinely. (I am currently refusing to buy the solo album from Kaizers Orkestra main man Janove Ottesen for the same reason, and am very worried about the forthcoming new Kate Bush album. Let's hope that, like Pink Floyd, she can use her clout within EMI to put a stop to that nonsense.) However, this has never been an absolute boycott - instead I consider ShinyDisks to be severely devalued by the playback problems they cause me and the need to (irony of ironies, all is irony) make backup copies immediately after buying them because the so-called copy protection technology breaks the error correction track and makes the disks much more damage-prone. If a CD like that gets marked down, I think about buying it again. Douce Victime is currently on sale, so I got it.

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Burn remasters

October 5th, 2004 by Reinder

The Highway Star has a good feature on the remasters of Deep Purple's Burn album, criticising the choice of bonus tracks and recommending that buyers avoid the European pressing:

The European pressing of the remastered Burn is plagued by a Copy Control system that the record labels seem hell-bent on shoving down our throats. No, illegal copying of music is not endorsed, but manhandling the music that is the very livelihood of these companies is offensive, annoying and counterproductive. Throw the remastered Burn CD into your PC's CD-rom drive and it'll start up a mini media-player window (of sorts) which will only play back compressed versions of the music on the disc. Fine. Anyone should be able to live with this - that is, if the music hadn't been encoded at a measly 64 kbps! This postively ruins any listening experience as it makes the music sound like it came drifting in from a remote AM station broadcasting with stolen pre-WWII equipment. Yes, it's that bad.

The low quality of the pre-ripped files shows EMI Europe's lack of seriousness about the remaster program and their contempt for their consumer base. Fans buy remastered editions expecting the sound quality to be better than the original release. While Deep Purple's core audience consists of baby boomers who probably have CD players, their records are also bought by people now in their teens and early twenties, many of whom only play CDs (the ones that buy and play CDs at all are a highly desirable market within the youth demographic) on their computers*). If, when you sell a remastered CD to them, what they actually get for their € 19 is a much inferior sound quality than the original release, you have cheated a kid or a student out of their allowance, student loan or MacJob wages. Way to go, EMI!

My fear is that EMI will see any lack of interest in the remasters in Europe as evidence that buyers aren't interested in Deep Purple material after the Mark II era. Record companies have a habit of grabbing the wrong end of the stick when it comes to interpreting sales results. For example, the remastered editions of the second, third and fourth King Crimson albums were under-printed because Virgin concluded, based on low back catalogue sales of the previous editions of those albums, that few people would want to buy the remasters. It took them a while to find out that the reason people didn't buy the previous editions because they were waiting for those remasters, which had been in the pipeline for a year!

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Sony blinks!

October 1st, 2004 by Reinder

Via Boing Boing:

Engadget reports that Sony is going to stop releasing music on ShinyDisk:

Seems Sony is going through something of a change of heart recently: following its decision to support MP3 in its audio players comes news that, in Japan at least, Sony Music Entertainment is ditching copy-control CDs from November. They claim the reason is “an increase in awareness by music consumers”, which we assume is supposed to mean that they’ve succeeded in educating everyone that copying CDs is a bad thing. Dare we suggest that the truth is simply that they’re starting to see the light?

ShinyDisk Watch: more about the Beastie Boys album

June 23rd, 2004 by Reinder

This rumor has been going around about the new Beastie Boys album that I blogged about earlier. The Register writes:

According to a recent thread at BugTraq, an executable file is automatically and silently installed on the user's machine when the CD is loaded. The file is said to be a driver that prevents users from ripping the CD (and perhaps others), and attacks both Windows boxen and Macs.

The infected CD is being distributed worldwide except in the USA and UK, which prevents us from giving a firsthand report. However, according to hearsay, we gather that the Windows version exploits the 'autorun' option, and that the Mac version affects the auto play option.

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ShinyDisk watch: The Beastie Boys

June 14th, 2004 by Reinder

Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing reports that the new Beastie Boys record has copy protection, and responds to it in the same way that everyone else does when confronted with this technology:

... If the Beasties wanna treat me like a crook, I don't want to be their customer.

Note that the only thing that this DRM is doing here is pissing off the honest fans who want open CDs; the DRM on the CD didn't stop my source from making me a set of MP3s. In other words, if you plan on listening to the new disc on your iPod or laptop, you're better off downloading a copy made by a cracker and posted on Kazaa -- if you buy it in a shop, you're going to have to go through the lawbreaking rigamarole of breaking the DRM yourself.

In an update, Cory passes along a comment:

Update: Ian sez, "Hi, I'm not sure who posted re: Beastie Boys copy protection, but I just spoke with Mike D and their management and they wanted me to pass along that a) This is all territories except the US and UK -- US and UK discs do not have this protection on them; b) All EMI CDs are treated this way, theirs isn't receiving special treatment; c) They would have preferred not to have the copy protection, but weren't allowed to differ from EMI policy."

I'm pretty sure that c) is bunk. The copy protection has been the norm for EMI since the second half of 2003, but I recently bought the European edition of the remastered version of Pink Floyd's The Final Cut with a copyright date of 2004, and it's unprotected. Apparently, the guys from Pink Floyd, even now that Roger Waters is no longer talking to the others, still have enough clout to prevent Copy Control technology that, in addition to the concerns Cory raises, also harms playability and degrade the sound. Over at Virgin records, Peter Gabriel also succesfully resisted the use of Copy Control on his remaster series, so it can be done.

Beastie Boys fans on the European continent are well advised to get the UK edition from a mail order supplier (so that if it turns out to be a ShinyDisk after all, they can return it as defective).

(Just by way of a reminder: the UK-based Campaign for Digital Rights have all the info on what Copy Control technologies actually do, and it's from a reference in one of their articles (can't remember which though) that I got the idea of calling CCT "CD"s ShinyDisks.)

At least it makes my purchasing decisions easier

April 17th, 2004 by Reinder

Flemish vocal goddesses Lais have released a new album. Unfortunately, what it's released on is a shiny disk that may or may not cause music to be played if it is placed in a CD player. So I'll wait for it to either go to mid-price or be released on CD. Instead, I bought the new Finntroll album Nattfödwhich had also just arrived in the shops. It plays in anything! And it's quite alright even if it's not as good as Jaktens Tid.

Seriously, I've had so many playback problems with the last batch of CDs that I bought that had so-called copy control technology on them that I'm losing patience with them even as cheap reissues of albums I already know to be essential. I won't boycott them outright, but it's a huge strike against any album if it's unplayable in my discman or computer.