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To what insane lengths will Sony go in its fight against piracy?

Wednesday, Dec 21 2005
Last month it was revealed that Sony Music BMG had been covertly installing spyware on its new CDs in order to combat music piracy. Sony used a program called XCP, created by U.K. firm First 4 Internet, that employed a cloaking system to hide the proprietary media player that consumers were unknowingly forced to download in order to play Sony Music CDs on their computers. 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 made users vulnerable to security risks and possible identity theft. Sony has since recalled the tainted discs.

This is what you call bad PR. But man, 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 rejected.

Ebola. Taking the term "virus" in a different direction, the executives at Sony Music had planned to leave traces of the Ebola virus in CDs marketed to "high risk" customers -- i.e., indie rock, hip hop, and Latin music fans. In an internal memo leaked to Internet muckrakers, Sony CEO Andrew Lack remarked to board members that while these fans constitute only 40 percent of the market, they are 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 found that those in mourning were 75 percent less likely to download music), CDs that cause skin irritation, and liner notes infected with hair lice.

The 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 pre-digital format that held an ironic allure for hipster consumers 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 Sony executives concluded that they would personally find it difficult to snort cocaine off eight-track cases.

Continuing Stream of Shit Music. Understanding that piracy is essentially a byproduct of music fandom, Sony decided that the less excited its customers were about the music they were purchasing, the slighter the chance that they would want to swap and share files via the Internet. While this move would appear to be self-defeating, Sony Music execs felt that there were enough compulsory purchases, sales based on marketing/packaging, and quickly disposable novelty hits (see INXS comeback album) to sustain a multibillion-dollar market of completely worthless music. The best thing about this strategy was that neither Sony nor any other major label had to dramatically shift the way in which it did business.

About The Author

Sam Chennault


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