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November 21, 2005

Making A Point, Online [11:09 am]

What should not have been an unexpected use of Amazon.com’s consumer review feature: Railing at Sony BMG, Disguised as a Review

Of course, a survey of recent tags - which, unless they are specifically made private, are designed to be viewed by the public - reveals that snarky Internet shoppers have quickly turned Amazon.com’s tagging system into digital graffiti.

[...] Last week, after a grueling 14-day joust with technology bloggers, who discovered clandestine programming code - called a rootkit - and other embarrassing security flaws in the copy-restriction software Sony BMG had placed on some of its CD’s, the music publisher recalled nearly three million affected albums from store and warehouse shelves. It also offered to exchange the roughly two million more that customers had already bought. (Visit upsrow.com/sonybmg if you’re one of them.)

The list of buggy albums had a little something for everyone - from Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong to Switchfoot, The Dead 60’s and Flatt & Scruggs - but in an unfortunate turn for the dozens of artists who could not have known what copy-protection software their overlords would place on their CD’s, customers at Amazon.com had little to say about the music.

“Evil” and “scumware” were among the tags attached to the country duo Johnny and Donnie Van Zant’s “Get Right with the Man” - the first album identified by the blogosphere as containing Sony BMG’s doomed D.R.M. software. And “rootkit” is now a tag attached to many Sony BMG titles.

“Do not buy” is another.

Among the customer “reviews” posted under the Van Zant album last week was this observation: “Regardless of the legendary family name or anything the group does from here on out, they will forever be remembered for releasing this album.”

“It’s kind of unfair to us,” Johnny Van Zant said of the whole affair, no doubt echoing the thoughts of other Sony BMG artists whose albums are now unfairly (albeit sometimes hilariously) trashed, tagged or wholly ignored in favor of copyright bickering at Amazon.com

Also, today’s Foxtrot:

Later: David Berlind continues with the story: Sony rootkit: The untold story

The Sony rootkit fiasco is the equivalent of that red light somewhere way down the line that some runaway train in the movies blew through. Somewhere in a control booth far away is someone flicking some indicator light with his finger. He knows something’s wrong, but he’s not ready to sound the alarms just yet. It’s the squadron of Japanese Zeros heading for Pearl Harbor that the radar technicians mistook for a flock of birds. We are ignoring the warning signs even though they’re right in front of our faces. We are heading for a situation that we are all going to dreadfully regret — essentially the bad pipe dream that Doc Searls wrote about in his recent treatise — if we don’t treat the Sony rootkit issue as a symptom of a much much bigger problem.

If the Sony rootkit case study teaches us anything, it’s how the fear of Internet-inspired economic punishment can result in a rapid change of direction. Sony is pulling its rootkit CDs from the market and not a moment too soon. Though we don’t know what Sony will come up with over the long term to replace it, it is ultimately the best conclusion anybody could have asked for. It’s proof that public outrage can work. Now, if only we can apply that same outrage to the real problem, then and only then will things start to look up.

We’ll see what the EFF comes up with today.

Also, in re complaining online at Amazon, see Jack Thompson vs Amazon?

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