Court gives first nod to Sony BMG settlement

People who bought copy protected CDs would be entitled to cash payment, free album download

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is praising a U.S. District Court judge's preliminary approval Friday of a settlement with Sony BMG Music Entertainment over two widely criticized copy protection programs found on an estimated 15 million music CDs.

The settlement means that consumers can finally get music that will play on their computers without invading their privacy or eroding their security, EFF said in a statement Friday. EFF, a U.S.-based organization, studies technology-related legal issues.

The terms of the settlement vary according to which kind of copy protection software the CD contains, according to details released by EFF on its Web site. Sony used two versions of copy protection: Extended Copy Protection (XCP), produced by First 4 Internet in Banbury, England, and two versions of MediaMax from SunnComm International of Phoenix, Arizona.

Although designed to prevent unauthorized copies of songs, security researchers found the programs were either difficult to remove, caused security holes in users' computers or violated accepted user control rights over their own computer. As a result, several class-action lawsuits were filed against Sony in November and were consolidated into a single case in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Sony does not agree with all of the claims of the lawsuit, EFF said.

For people who bought CDs with XCP, they can exchange the disks for new ones without the programs. Customers are also entitled to download a clean version of that same album in MP3 format, and receive a $7.50 payment plus one free album download. Users can opt out of the cash payment and get three free album downloads, according to details released by EFF.

Those possessing disks with MediaMax 3.0 are eligible to receive a free MP3 download of the same album. The settlement also allows for customers who have CDs with the 5.0 version of that program to receive a free MP3 download of the same album plus an additional free album download.

The terms of the settlement require that users run an uninstaller that removes the copy protection software.

The settlement also mandates Sony to stop manufacturing CDs with any of the three programs and issues updates to fix security problems. Sony began including XCP software on some CDs in January 2005. The company had shipped CDs with the MediaMax software since August 2003, court documents showed.

Security researchers found the XCP software was hard to detect, embedding itself within Microsoft's Windows OS using rootkit technology. Soon after, viruses that could exploit the rootkit were released, putting further pressure on Sony from customers over details of XCP and how it operated. Subsequently, security vendors classified XCP as spyware and updated their products to disable it.

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