This is my second time typing this article. Stupid browser button in the wrong place.
The theme of this post is simple: boycott Sony. If you bought a CD from them recently, then sue.
Sony recently a number of albums with DRM (digital rights management) software installed. DRM is a blanket term for all sorts of programs designed to let you use content (music, movies, whatever) without being able to copy it. Sony's version of "DRM" (they call the specific product XCP) goes well beyond just that.
It installs a rootkit on your computer (PC or Mac) as soon as the CD is inserted. This rookit allows Sony to gain complete access to your computer at any time. Worse, the rootkit modifies the operating system to hide itself from prying eyes. Once this modification is made, code by people with fewer scruples even than Sony, such as virus writers, can hide in the same shadow.
Making matters worse, the uninstaller released by Sony, after much bad press, doesn't really uninstall anything. It undoes the "stealth" mode provisions, but leaves the back door open to anyone to take remote control of your computer.
A research group recently published results showing that Sony's DRM has now infected over 500,000 networks in North America alone. All of these networks are presently vulnerable to an attack that could take the form of remote control of machines, or an automated worm that self-propagated across the net. Several supposedly secure military networks have been infected, causing the Department of Homeland Security in the US to consider legal action against Sony on grounds of national security.
This practice of installing software in secret is reprehensible. It is done, obstensibly, to allow Sony to check your machine for unauthorized copies of their music. This is completely unreasonable. If Sony believes that you pirate their songs, then they can get a court order to search your machine. A government cannot hack your computer without a warrant. What would make it OK for Sony to do the same?
Microsoft and several antivirus companies have stepped up to the plate on this one. MS considers Sony's DRM to be a major security threat, and is thus including it as a target for their anti-virus and anti-spyware packages. Most antivirus companies are following suit. If you have purchased music from any Sony label in the past year, be sure to run a scan on your computer once the tools become available!
Several class action suits have already been filed against Sony. The EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation, a human rights group) has sent a cease-and-desist letter to Sony, which threatens major legal action against them. Both the EU and the US are reportedly considering filing criminal computer trespass charges against Sony for this incident.
This is an invasion of privacy and property. That Sony feels justified in doing this is inexcusable, and unacceptable. At the very least, please don't buy music from Sony, or any of the other major labels. This problem is endemic to the industry and will only get worse. There was a time when there were fewer superstars, and most musicians supported themselves not with recording contracts, but with concerts. Support your favorite artists - forget buying their music, but go see their shows.