net.wars: Sony got root?

by Wendy M Grossman | posted on 04 November 2005

"Yes, Lenny?"
"Why are people stealing our music?"
"They're evil, miserable thieves with computers."

Wendy M Grossman

"Don't they like us, George?"

"They hate everyone, Lenny."

"Can't we make them stop?"

"We keep trying. We've sued a bunch of them for file-sharing, and that scared some of them off."

"Aren't we making a lot of money anyway, George?"

"Well, yes, we are for now. But we won't be if people keep stealing our music."

"So, what are we going to do about it, George?"

"We have a plan.. We're going to put in copy protection."

"What's that?"

"We're going to add some software to the CDs we sell that will stop people from making more than three copies. That will let them make the back-ups they say they want, but it won't let them rip the CD and turn it into MP3s."

"How will that help, George?"

"Then they can't release it onto the Internet where everyone can download a copy."

"Why don't we just get rid of the Internet, George?"

"Well, we thought of that. And we're trying. But in the meantime we think copy protection is the best idea."

"So, how's that going to work?"

"Each CD will come with a program on it that will install itself on the user's computer so the only way you can rip one of our CDs is into a protected format, and any copies you make can't be copied. It's very cool."

"We make this ourselves?"

"No, we buy it from a British company named First4Internet. They're our friends."

"Oh, right. OK. Wait a minute. What if the people who buy our CDs notice the program is there? Won't they just delete it?

"That's where we're going to be clever, George. We're going to hide the program so they can't find it."

"Hide it?"

"Yes. There are all these clever techniques for hiding software when it's installed on a computer system, and we're going to use them so they can't find the software and delete it."

"I don't know, George. Aren't there are lot of very smart people out there who have fancy tools they've designed just to thwart this kind of thing? People who study security issues and make a living detecting hidden software?"

"Lenny, Lenny, Lenny. They're not going to find our software. And even if they do, they'll know we're good guys just protecting our content."

"Won't the users get mad if they find out? And decide to stop buying our CDs? And going to our movies and buying our electronics?

"Of course not."

"Won't they complain that we have no right to interfere with how their computers run?"

"Those are our computers, Lenny. No one actually buys a computer or software. They may think they do, but they don't. They only pay for the right to use it. Why, when we get a Vaio in for repair the first thing we do is recover all the software to the computer's original state when we sold it. And if they want to be allowed to buy our CDs then they're going to have to accept that we have the right to control their computer and how they use it. That's called licensing, Lenny. There's a whole chapter on licensing in that book I gave you. Have you read it?"

"Is that the one with all the legal contracts in it, George?"

"Er, yes. Yes, I guess it is."

"I like the chapter with the pictures from our movies better."

"That's a nice chapter. I like that chapter, too."

"They wouldn't even be able to tape TV programs if it weren't for us."

"That's right."

"We defended freedom right up to the Supreme Court."

"Yes, we did."

"We invented the entire market for videotapes so people could have home movie collections."

"Yes, we did. Is that all, Lenny? Because I kind of need to go and take all of the napkins out of the employee cafeteria."


"We recently realised that all our employees bring handkerchiefs or Kleenex to work every day. So they don't need us to provide them with napkins. It's a saving."

"Wait a minute, though. You're saying we're going to stop our customers from converting our CDs into standard formats that they like to use?"

"Yes. We don't like standard formats, Lenny. We never have. When we sold the first portable cassette recorders in the 1970s any time those goons at Radio Shack came up with a new plug for their cheap universal AC adapters so customers could buy that instead of our expensive one, we changed the plug again. When everyone else picked VHS we went Beta. When everyone else was doing compact flash and smart media cards, we invented the memory stick. Other people's digital recorders do MP3; we do ATRAC3. This is how we do business, Lenny."

"Oh, I get it now. So we're going to change the format, install hidden software on our customers' computers, and stop the computers from working if they try to delete it?"


"OK, George. I'll sign off on this idea."

"Good. Thank you."

"Although…doesn't this make us hackers, George?"

"No, no, we're good guys. Hackers are miserable, evil creatures dressed in black T-shirts with slogans on them like 'Got root?'"

"Got root? What does that mean, George?"

"No idea."

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Wendy M. Grossman’s Web site has an extensive archive of her books, articles, and music, and an archive of all the earlier columns in this series. Readers are welcome to post here, at net.wars home, follow on Twitter or send email to netwars(at) skeptic.demon.co.uk (but please turn off HTML).