Sony's CEO seeks balance for copy-protection

Howard Stringer discusses the controversy over Sony's rootkit copy protection techniques

The recent controversy over a copy-protection system employed on music CDs from Sony BMG Music Entertainment proved to Sony Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Howard Stringer the need to carefully balance the needs of customers and the rights of artists, he said this week.

"Clearly the perception out there is that we shouldn't be doing too much of that copy protection stuff," said Stringer, who was speaking at a news conference at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas on Thursday.

He was referring to a controversy that erupted late last year after a Windows operating system expert discovered Sony BMG's XCP copy protection system installed itself on user's computers using "rootkit" cloaking techniques, making it difficult to detect and remove. After that a second copy protection system employed by Sony, called MediaMax, came under the spotlight. Sony BMG stopped shipping XCP-encoded discs after hackers released malicious software that took advantage of the system.

"In the video business moving on this is going to be something of a tug of war for the reasons that protecting the artist's right is not something that should be automatically dismissed by the push-and-pull generation. And we're just going to have to tread very carefully," he said.

"We have to walk the line at Sony between the needs and technology of the customer and the rights of the artist, which we feel fairly strongly about," he said referring to Sony's dual role as a major consumer electronics and a major music and movie publisher.

Stringer also said he was worried about the negative impact the controversy could have had on Sony as a whole because of Sony BMG's actions. Sony BMG is a joint venture with Bertelsmann.

"Every headline was about Sony, as if Sony Electronics was behind all of this and we took quite a beating but it was a Sony BMG copyright protection tradition and this was a bad situation. We obviously retreated from that position."

"Sony as a company took a bit of a beating for it, which was somewhat unfair," he said.

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