November 22, 2005

Sony BMG sued over CD spyware

By Chris Marlowe

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Sony BMG has legal
troubles beyond its battles against piracy.

The state of Texas and consumer activist group Electronic
Frontier Foundation filed lawsuits Monday against the music
giant, alleging that its copy-protected CDs violate laws
against spyware and make computers vulnerable to attack.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said it was the first
lawsuit filed under the state's Consumer Protection Against
Computer Spyware Act of 2005. He accused Sony BMG of installing
files on consumers' computers without their owners' knowledge
and which hide other files installed by Sony. The state is
seeking civil penalties of $100,000 for each violation of the
law, attorneys' fees and investigative costs.

"Sony has engaged in a technological version of
cloak-and-dagger deceit against consumers by hiding secret
files on their computers," Abbott said. "Consumers who
purchased a Sony CD thought they were buying music. Instead,
they received spyware that can damage a computer, subject it to
viruses and expose the consumer to possible identity crime."

Abbott's office investigated the matter and found that
"this technology revealed that it remains hidden and active at
all times after installation, even when Sony's media player is
inactive, prompting concerns about its true purpose," according
to the suit.

The Texas suit also notes that representatives were able to
purchase numerous copies of Sony BMG discs that had the
controversial technology embedded in them, despite Sony's
assertion that all such CDs had been recalled.

The CDs in question are protected by Extended Copy
Protection technology from the British company First 4 Internet
and MediaMax technology from SunnComm -- products designed to
deter piracy by circumscribing how consumers use the music on
the discs.

The consumer activist foundation filed suit, along with two
national class-action law firms, in the Superior Court of
California, County of Los Angeles.

The advocacy group's charges are similar to those levied in
Texas. "By including a flawed and overreaching computer program
in over 20 million music CDs sold to the public, including
California residents, Sony BMG has created serious security,
privacy and consumer protection problems that have damaged
plaintiffs and thousands of other Californians," the suit

In addition, the foundation asserts that the End User
Licensing Agreement is "unconscionable." The agreement is a set
of conditions each consumer must agree to before the CD can be
played in a computer.

The foundation's documents further state that the MediaMax
software gets installed on user's PCs even if they click "no"
to refuse the agreement.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter