November 2005

Come one, come all and get down at the 222 Club this Saturday for a massive birthday party for the coolest person I’ve never met. Ferocious DJs, Fierce People, Fabulous Drinks and 3 decades of K. Sung. Come rock with us!

Ferocious, Fierce, Fabulous

Grokster has settled its long-standing lawsuit with MGM and the other litigants in
MGM v. Grokster
. The New York Times reported late today that Grokster had abruptly shut down their website and has ceased to do business. The message they left on their front door as they were leaving:

The United States Supreme Court unanimously confirmed
that using this service to trade copyrighted material is illegal.
Copying copyrighted motion picture and music files
using unauthorized peer-to-peer services is illegal and is
prosecuted by copyright owners.

There are legal services for downloading music and movies.
This service is not one of them.

Grokster hopes to have a safe and legal service available soon.

Hmmm. Actually, the Supreme Court unanimously confirmed no such thing. They remanded the case back to trial court to consider whether Grokster actively induced their customers to infringe. I appreciate why Grokster would settle their case, but agreeing to have a notice like this posted on their website, as they sign the settlement with the RIAA and begin work on their ‘legal’ service (presumabely under guidance from their new pals in the RIAA) is really kind of lame. It’s a smack in the face of all the people who fought to protect their rights. It undermines the issues they purported to be fighting for all these many months.

I’m not saying that Grokster shouldn’t be held secondarily liable for infringement under an ‘active inducement’ rule. I’m saying that no one has found them guilty of secondary infringement. Their message is a complete capitulation and overreaches the opinion of the Supreme Court. It looks like they got bullied into a pretty submissive position. It’s not unfortunate that they are settling the lawsuit, but it is unfortunate that they would go out like that.

I’m interested to learn what the details of the settlement are.

According to Mark Russinovich (via the washingtonpost blog), Sony recently started adding some overly eager and troublesome “copy protection” software to their Sony/BMG audio CDs. Evidently, when you try to copy CD content to your computer, you also get some, shall we say, enhanced software in the form of spyware that utilizes tactics previously reserved for hackers and virus writers. The software uses rootkits to gain covert control of your computer.

This seems to me several steps beyond the most liberal boundaries of ‘appropriate’ copy protection measures. The software can render your CD drive useless, corrupt your OS, and attempts to not only strip consumers of most accepted uses of their CDs (including fair uses), but also seeks to penalize people who purchase CDs if they so much as copy their music to their iTunes library.

If this kind of intrusion isn’t bad enough, the approach that Sony/BMG uses basically sets up a nice backdoor to your computer, so that any hacker can gain access to your machine. In other words, once the rootkit is installed, it’s a hacker’s paradise unless you have some good anti-rootkit software running.

This is a bad idea, and a bad sign if other record labels and CD manufacturers follow suit. In the long run, this will have no effect on copying. Hackers and determined pirates will easily circumvent the short-sighted, clunky DRM. Hopefully consumers and some media outlets will chime in, and Sony will be weighing the value of this move against the PR costs. Ahhh, Sony. I thought you made sense in 1984, but lately it’s like I hardly know you! These days you’re like a total stranger. And now I can’t even buy your CDs without giving up reasonable access to the music. This seems like a losing proposition to me.

Updated 11/2/2005 @ 1:14 AM PST: Professor Ed Felton just posted a more detailed and insightful analysis here