Sony Sued Over Copy Protection

Sony BMG Music Entertainment's fight over its XCP copy protection software shifted to the courts Monday as Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and lawyers from the Electronic Frontier Foundation moved to bring civil suits against the entertainment giant.

Texas has become the first U.S. state to sue Sony over its distribution of flawed copy protection software, while representatives for the EFF, a digital rights watchdog group based in San Francisco, said the organization will bring a class-action lawsuit against Sony in California.

The Texas lawsuit accuses Sony of violating the state's 2005 antispyware law by distributing the software on 52 of the company's music titles this year.

"Thousands of Texas consumers have bought Sony BMG CDs," Abbot said in a video posted at the Attorney General's Web site. "People buy these CDs to listen to music, what they don't bargain for is the consumer invasion that's unleashed."

MediaMax Targeted Too

The lawsuit, filed Monday in the district court of Travis County, Texas, seeks civil penalties of $100,000 for each violation of Texas law, in addition to attorney's fees and investigation costs, the Texas Attorney General's office said.

The EFF's lawsuit will seek unspecified compensation for XCP customers, and will also draw attention to a second copy-protection product that ships with Sony CDs, called MediaMax. The lawsuit is expected to be filed Monday in Superior Court for the County of Los Angeles, said Corynne McSherry, staff attorney with the EFF.

MediaMax, which has shipped on an estimated 20 million Sony CDs, violates users' privacy and secretly installs files without securing proper permission, McSherry said.

While Sony has moved to fix some of the problems with XCP, it has been largely silent about MediaMax, McSherry said.

"It's very disappointing that Sony BMG hasn't been proactive with MediaMax," she said. "You'd have thought they'd have learned their lesson with XCP."

The EFF lawsuit will ask the court to force Sony to recall MediaMax-based CDs. It will also seek refunds to those who have bought both types of copy-protected CDs, as well as financial compensation for the damage that Sony's software has caused to computers.

Flaws Fingered

Three weeks ago, computer expert Mark Russinovich published the first analysis of XCP, which was created to limit the number of copies that Sony customers could make. According to Russinovich, XCP uses the same cloaking techniques as spyware and viruses to hide itself on a user's computer, making it virtually impossible to detect or remove the program and also exposing Sony's customers to security risks.

Abbott said Monday that those techniques violate Texas' Consumer Protection Against Computer Spyware Act of 2005.

"That law makes it illegal to create deceptive file names or formats to avoid detection or prevent the consumer from removing the software," he said.

The Texas attorney general's office is also investigating reports that XCP may be collecting user information and sending it back to Sony, as well as improperly concealing the fact that it does not work with Apple Computer Inc.'s iPod music players.

Last week Sony pulled its XCP CDs from store shelves, and launched a program to allow its customers to exchange their music for CDs that did not have the copy-protection software installed, but Austin, Texas, music vendors were still selling some of the titles on Monday, Abbott said.

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