November 11, 2005 8:31 pm

Sony BMG suspends copy-protection software

Sony BMG, the joint venture record label, was on Friday forced into an embarrassing climbdown over its use of copy-protection technology on music CDs that exposed some PC users to hackers.

The company said it would “temporarily suspend” use of the controversial software and apologised to PC users for “possible inconvenience” it may have caused.

The turnaround came after several PC security firms identified a “Trojan“ e-mail virus designed to exploit software that some of Sony BMG's music CDs install on their owners' computers when played.

The copy protection software dubbed “XCP“ developed by UK-based First4Internet, limits the number of copies that can be made from the original CD. It is designed to deter “casual piracy“ - typically, friends copying each other's music CDs.

Sony BMG, whose recording stars include Celine Dion, Mariah Carey and Destiny's Child, is believed to have installed XCP on millions of CDs since it began using the software earlier this year.

On Friday, Sony BMG, which faces a number of lawsuits in the US related to the use of the software, acknowledged for the first time that it could render PC users vulnerable to attack.

“We are aware that a computer virus is circulating that may affect computers with XCP content protection software,” the company said, adding that the software has been included on a limited number of Sony BMG titles, but emphasising, “This potential problem has no effect on the use of these discs in conventional, non-computer-based, CD and DVD players.”

In response to the virus attacks, the company said it had provided a software “patch“ to all major anti-virus companies and to the general public. The patch protects PC users against the virus, identified by Kaspersky, the Russian PC security firm and by UK-based Sophos.

“We deeply regret any possible inconvenience this may cause,” Sony BMG said, adding that it stood by its content-protection technology as “an important tool to protect our intellectual property rights and those of our artists“. The company said: “Nonetheless, as a precautionary measure, Sony BMG is temporarily suspending the manufacture of CDs containing XCP technology. We also intend to re-examine all aspects of our content protection initiative to be sure that it continues to meet our goals of security and ease of consumer use.”

Sony BMG has still not identified which of its music CDs contain the software. Earlier this week, however, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a US-based consumer advocacy group, identified at least 19 Sony BMG music CDs that the group claims install the software when played on a PC.

Critics, including the EFF, claim the software also slows down PCs and makes them more susceptible to crashes and third-party attacks. “Since the program is designed to hide itself, users may have trouble diagnosing the problem,” the EFF said.

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