Last month it was revealed that Sony BMG Music had been covertly installing spyware on its new CDs to combat music piracy. Sony used a program called XCP, created by UK firm First 4 Internet, that employed a cloaking system to hide the proprietary media player so consumers were forced to download it if they wanted to play Sony Music CDs on a computer. Software included with that media player "remains hidden and active" after installation. According to the Attorney General of Texas who along with the state of California launched a class-action lawsuit against Sony this anti-piracy scheme makes users vulnerable to security risks and possible identity theft.
Although pedants, critics, and lawmakers balked, a computer virus pales in comparison to some of the other ideas tossed around by Sony executives to combat music piracy this holiday season. Here is a partial list of the strategies that were fortunately rejected.
Reintroduction of the Eight-Track Format: Realizing that profit margins had been higher before they began to endlessly tinker with their music formats, Sony board members briefly considered once again tinkering with their formats. The long-forsaken eight-track was a leading contender for reintroduction since it was a predigital format that held an ironic allure for hipsters and a nostalgic appeal for older consumers both of whom are target markets for Sony's hopeful holiday breakout CD, Neil Diamond's 12 Songs. The idea was nixed when execs concluded they would personally find it difficult to snort cocaine off eight-track cases.
Sony BMG Music
Ebola: Believing that the virus approach had been successful, though not fully fleshed out, higherups at Sony BMG decided to leave traces of the Ebola virus in CDs marketed to "high-risk" customers i.e., indie rock, hip-hop, and Latin markets. In an internal memo leaked to Internet muckrakers www.rawstory.com, Sony CEO Andrew Lack remarked to board members that while this audience constitutes only 40 percent of the company's market, it is responsible for 90 percent of downloads. "Once we weed out a few hundred thousand bad apples," Lack commented, "we'll be able to sell directly and without interference to our loyal customers." Similar ideas included pet viruses (studies show that those in mourning are 75 percent less likely to download music), CDs that cause skin irritation, and liner notes infested with hair lice.
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Continuing Stream of Shit Music: Understanding that piracy is essentially a byproduct of music fandom, Sony decided that the less excited their customers were about the music they were purchasing, the slighter the chance they would want to swap and share files via the Internet. Though this move would appear to be self-defeating, Sony Music execs believed there was a large enough market for compulsory purchases, sales based on marketing/packaging, and quickly disposable novelty hits (see aforementioned Neil Diamond CD) to sustain a multibillion-dollar market of completely worthless music. And the best thing about this strategy was that neither Sony nor any other major label had to dramatically shift the way they do business.