EFF Slaps Class Action Lawsuit on Sony BMG

The sun never sets on the brouhaha over Sony copy protection! The Electronic Frontier Foundation has filed a class action lawsuit against Sony BMG, alleging the company installed software on the Windows computers of millions of unsuspecting music customers, and even installed software if the users declared they didn’t agree to Sony’s End Use License Agreement (EULA). The EFF’s suit calls for sony to repair the damage done to music consumers by both the XCP copy protection software it licensed from First 4 Internet, as well as MediaMax, another copy protection system licensed from SunComm.

The XCP software distributed by Sony on more than 50 music CDs is already the target of numerous lawsuits and widespread outcry in both the technical community and the consumer marketplace for cloaking itself and exposing users’ computers to security risks. Sony has recalled CDs containing the XCP software and has set up an exchange program for customers with XCP-protected CDs.

The EFF’s lawsuit is the first to target SunComm’s MediaMax copy protection system, which (to date) has not been implicated in any security gaffes, copyright violations, or been targeted by malware authors. Nonetheless, the EFF alleged that MediaMax installs software on a user’s computer even if a user declines the terms of the Sony EULA. Furthermore, once installed, the EFF asserts MediaMax transmits data about users to SunComm through the Internet whenever a user listens to a CD; such action contradicts both Sony’s EULA and SunComm’s own assertion about the software, which claim no information about users or their computers is collected. In fact, SunComm is able to track users’ listening habits. The EFF also alleges users had to provide even more personally identifying information to obtain an uninstaller, and that the uninstall software creates significant security vulnerabilities (much as did the XCP uninstaller).

Sony shipped the controversial XCP copy protection on some 4.7 million CDs, of which an estimated 2.5 million were sold. In contrast, Sony has shipped MediaMax on more than 20 million CDs since 2004.

“Consumers have a right to listen to the music they have purchased in private, without record companies spying on their listening habits with surreptitiously-installed programs,” added EFF Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl, “Between the privacy invasions and computer security issues inherent in these technologies, companies should consider whether the damage done to consumer trust and their own public image is worth its scant protection.”

This story just keeps getting more devious and involving: better than reality TV! What will next week bring? Stay tuned!

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