11 November 2005

Sony comes to the rescue.

Completely unintentionally of course. But the rootkit row which Sony has started is likely to go down in history as one of the biggest corporate mistakes. Whereas Sony did so much to allow the consumer rights as regards taping video programming, it's looking like their unbelievably crass actions now they're on the other side of the fence could be THE catalyst for consumers rallying against unreasonable DRM.

This article at Ars Technica is a great resource for links to the background and the growing outrage about this - there are countless others. It has exploded from individual geeky ire to major lawsuits by authorities across the globe (note - these are not class action lawsuits). It has shown Sony to be anti-consumer by targeting not pirates but normal people who indeed may not have made any copies whatsoever. It has created a backlash which will lead to a boycott of their products. And it has made the average Joe wake up to what is happening. Far more people are likely to take positive action in response to unreasonable DRM tactics. The icing on the cake (except if you're directly affected that is) is the news - also in the Ars article - that there is already a nasty trojan in circulation that takes advantage of the security hole the Sony software has opened! I particularly hope a few affected Vaio owners make their feelings known about this!

I was also pleased to note this news (again carried in numerous places) about consumer groups starting to fight for DRM interoperability. Now, I'm not necessarily a believer in these types of groups getting things done, but at least I applaud their efforts.

That this issue is becoming mainstream is good news, and not before time. In the 70's there was enough momentum from hardware companies (ie those making VCR's) to ride roughshod over the objections of content companies, and lo and behold it all worked out well for all. If we don't have such fights now for the soul of this, it's all going to end in disappointment, piracy, and fat legal fees. Microsoft doesn't seem able or willing to stand up for it. Apple is the closest to a consumer champion in fighting at least for fair DRM (if not interoperable DRM). But while it could achieve a lot with content providers when all it had was an mp3 player that worked with 2% of the world's computers, it now provokes fear. What is needed is a few providers (hopefully including Apple) to just get on with it and prove that there is a pro-consumer middle ground that is both anti-piracy and anti-old guard (oh, and PLEASE, interoperable). They may have to take a few gambles and fight a few court battles along the way, but in the end the consumer will reward their actions by buying the gadgets that will be the 21st century equivalent of the VCR.

Finally, I would also make the observation that once again Sony's left arm has done something that hurts not just itself (though strangely it may eventually be a beneficiary) but it's whole. And this time it's very visible. The name of an organisation once synonymous with enjoying entertainment anywhere has been sullied once more as a killjoy. I'd love to know what reasons people can actually give for wanting to buy a Sony MP3 player for instance. Anyone?

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