The ongoing war on the consumer

The entertainment industry continue to pursue what has to be labeled as an all out war on the consumer. We all know about the lawsuits filed by RIAA and the MPAA regarding alleged illegal downloading. Aside from the fact that any sane business model doesn’t include “suing your customers” as a major money making scheme, it seems that the RIAA lawsuits are simply a shakedown… pay us $7500 and we won’t sue you. Fortunately, some people are fighting back with the help of lawyers who realize the judicial system is being used like a bank robber’s gun.

But, of course, there’s another front in this war…

Not content to sue everybody, the entertainment industry wants to delve deep into your TV, your computer, and your other electronic devices and make them police you.

A developer who creates tools to help prevent spyware was recently astonished find out that a Sony CD had planted a rootkit (a type of software that sneaks its way onto a computer and burrows deep into its internals to hide its existence) on his PC. The purpose of this rootkit was to enforce Sony’s copying limitations on the music. While that’s bad enough, he found that Sony’s rootkit was very poorly coded, and open up security threats that could be exploited by others. Not only that, but attempting to remove the rootkit resulted in his computer being unable to access his CD-ROM drive.

This is a growing trend not only in the music industry, but in the software industry (specifically, games). For example, I just recently got bitten by a similar issue: a game I bought silently installed a system file called UAService7.exe. It took me a while to determine what had happened, why this strange program was now running on my computer all of the time (regardless of whether I played the game or not). The supposed explanation of what this system file does is rather irrelevant to me. Its presence on my system takes up system resources and presents yet another thing that can go wrong or be taken advantage of by spyware or viruses. Even if this additional driver is perfectly coded and 100% safe, it mucks with the computer at a very low level. The next program I install might also have its own protection scheme which clashes with the first. The end result is the same as with spyware: system slowdowns, lockups, and other issues. Also, I have no idea what these programs are doing.

I recently switched from using Windows to using Linux for playing Blizzard’s World of Warcraft, thanks to Blizzard’s new policy of scanning your system before it lets you play. Thanks, I don’t need Blizzard looking over my should to see what I’m running. So, they can scan the virtual machine that my emulator software creates to their heart’s content. Unfortunately, that’s a solution for a very small number of games.

Finally, if this wasn’t invasive enough for you, the entertainment industry wants to control the design of everything that could conceivably copy video. They, of course, say it’s all about piracy. The fact that it will let them charge the consumer for the right to do something they’ve done in the past freely… well, that’s just a shame.

What can reverse this? A consumer revolt. Make it hard to use your products, make it inconvenient for us to view your content, and we’ll find something else to occupy our time and money. Industries have driven their customers away before (c.f. the radio industry under the control of Clear Channel). These industries need to understand that if they don’t play nice, we’ll take our ball and go home.


  1. Gary,

    Well this is a rant as paranoid as anything I have written, as software-savvy as anything Stearns has written, and as legalo-socio-politico-profundis as anything that Harold has written. Why, I think this rant is the PURE ESSENCE OF WETMACHINE!

    More like this, please!

  2. I think the “benevolent king model” is Microsoft’s answer (and maybe Apple’s?) to the issue of duelling crapware. I can imagine Gates saying that “having all this different software trying to control access and privacy is inefficient. It’s better for the consumer if we all agree to let our technology control everything.” I don’t like that answer, because I don’t trust any one company (or government) to do the right thing. Is there a technological or legal solution that lessens the chaos while allowing the individual computer owner to uphold a cyberpunk/libertarian philosophy? I don’t know — I’m asking. (By the way, to my mind, a perfect answer is one that _allows_ the computer owner to be libertarian, but doesn’t require him to be. _I_ don’t _want_ to be a libertarian!)

    It seems to me that the essential problem with anti-piracy nonsense is that it tries to treat bits — pure information — as real property. (See my rant at…) But if a broken legi-judicial system insists on this being the case, can’t we use the principle against them? If software is property owned by its creator, then shouldn’t my operating-system’s specific configuration be the property of the one who configured it — me? Shouldn’t the installation of crapware be regarded in law as the destruction of private property? Can’t every computer owner join in a class action suit against Sony, Apple, MS, Jupiter, et al?

  3. I suppose I should echo John’s comments. Excellent post! I particularly like the point that this “self-help” by the industry threatens to screw up everyone’s computers.

  4. Just as a follow-up… BoingBoing has a roundup of all of Sony’s key screwups over the last week or so regarding their DRM:

    _anticustomer_te.html” rel=”nofollow”>…

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