Private D.C. suit filed against Sony

U.S. lawyers have stepped up the legal pressure against Sony-BMG Entertainment in connection with its controversial use of spyware-based Digital Rights Management software on music CDs.

The latest development in the saga saw a lawsuit filed yesterday by legal firm Finkelstein, Thompson & Loughran for a resident of the District of Columbia on behalf of the general public of the capital.

The move comes after Sony has encoded an estimated 24m CDs, sold worldwide, with "spyware" programs based on rootkits that act as copyright protection software. The software programs include MediaMax, created by SunnComm Technologies and Extended Copy Protection ("XCP"), created by First4Internet. Through its use of these technologies on CDs, Sony has created an anti-burning scheme that permanently and irreversibly alters the core Windows operating system.

According to the plaintiff, hackers or Sony itself can use this rootkit technology to take control of users' computers without their knowledge or consent. While Sony has consistently stated that the software will not be used to collect personal information, the software is also used to transmit data about users to Sony through the internet, thereby allowing Sony to track users' listening habits, Finkelstein, Thompson & Loughran alleged.

The lawsuit was filed in the District of Columbia Superior Court under a provision in the District of Columbia's Consumer Protection and Procedures Act that allows a resident to act as a "private attorney general" and to seek relief on behalf of the general public. The suit alleges that Sony deceptively installed software on users' computers, compromised the security of users' computers and that Sony's purported attempts to curb the damage caused by its spyware programs have created even greater security risks for Sony's consumers.

"By surreptitiously encoding its CDs with XCP and MediaMax software for the purported purpose of securing its intellectual property, Sony has endangered the security of personal information for computer users throughout the District of Columbia. To date, nearly 5 million copies of the XCP encoded CDs, and nearly 20 million of the MediaMax encoded CDs, have been sold," stated Finkelstein, Thompson & Loughran.

"District of Columbia residents have played these disks on their personal computers and thus have had their systems unwittingly compromised. To date, several viruses have been reported that exploit the weakness that was created by the surreptitious installation of the spyware on their computers. Consumers are at risk from these and future viruses that will destroy software and steal personal information."

Sony initially stated that it planned to have all major new releases encoded with Digital Rights Management software and copy protected in 2006. Due to the current public backlash, and news of the virus piggy-backing on the XCP technology embedded by their CDs, Sony has since opted to "halt" or "suspend" the production of new CDs bearing the XCP technology. Sony is also facing at least six class action lawsuits nationwide and an action by the Texas attorney general.

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