Monday, November 14, 2005

And in more Sony BMG news, apparently they have a similar copy-protect system for Macs, though it's really easy to not install it. Really, this is just silly. However, it gets worse: there is an "End-User License Agreement" attached to ALL Sony digital music whether from online or their CDs, just like your usual software has a license agreement - you know, that thing you never read and just click "I Agree" because you want to install the software? - and that EULA has some pretty outrageous stuff in it.

Here I reprint some stuff sent to me by my friend and music biz impresario, Phil Hardy (warning, Flash site), which he received in a music biz newsletter from a guy named Bob Lefsetz. I'm just going to drop in a few parts, but the title of this story is "Bring me the Head of Andy Lack" - Lack is the president of Sony Music. Read on:

And then there's the ridiculous End-User License Agreement. Which Sony says makes their behavior all right.

I'm a member of the California Bar, and I don't read this shit. But now somebody has. And this is what they say the license states:

"1. If your house gets burgled, you have to delete all your music from your laptop when you get home. That's because the EULA says that your rights to any copies terminate as soon as you no longer possess the original CD.

2. You can't keep your music on any computers at work. The EULA only gives you the right to put copies on a 'personal home computer system owned by you.'

3. If you move out of the country, you have to delete all your music. The EULA specifically forbids 'export' outside the country where you reside.

4. You must install any and all updates, or else lose the music on your computer. The EULA immediately terminates if you fail to install any update. No more holding out on those hobble-ware downgrades masquerading as updates.

5. Sony-BMG can install and use backdoors in the copy protection software or media player to 'enforce their rights' against you, at any time, without notice. And Sony-BMG disclaims any liability if this 'self help' crashes your computer, exposes you to security risks, or any other harm.

6. The EULA says Sony-BMG will never be liable to you for more than $5.00. That's right, no matter what happens, you can't even get back what you paid for the CD.

7. If you file for bankruptcy, you have to delete all the music on your computer. Seriously.

8. You have no right to transfer the music on your computer, even along with the original CD.

9. Forget about using the music as a soundtrack for your latest family photo slideshow, or mash-ups, or sampling. The EULA forbids changing, altering, or make derivative works from the music on your computer."

Just because somebody wrote it, that doesn't mean it's going to stand up in court. And without laying out legal theory, I guarantee you the above wouldn't stand in a court of law. First and foremost it's not a proper warning, because the average person neither reads nor understands an End-User License Agreement, AND to enforce this agreement would be inequitable.

Sony needs to do a big mea culpa here.

People believe all the Net urban legends, no matter WHAT Sony's position, some people will still believe the CDs are going to mess up their machines. Hell, Sony should remove all copy protection from their discs and give away MP3s for free on their site to combat the negative publicity.

But in the closed foxhole, er, I mean boardroom, these guys live in, they don't understand the breadth of their faux pas.

Thank you, Mr. Lefsetz. Couldn't have said it better myself. Do you see how evil this license agreement is? It's very much like my old recording contract - "we own you, we own everything you do, we don't have to pay you unless we feel like it, really, and you have no legal recourse, so do what we tell you, you little peon." Sony BMG is now treating its customers worse than its artists. Nice job, dumbasses!

Now, it's one thing when a nobody like me, even if I am a disgruntled former recording artist, bitches about this stuff. It's entirely another when music biz insiders start flipping out about it. Even Phil, who is almost as much a "biz guy" as anyone else in the biz, is appalled by this. He's much younger and way hipper than the usual dinosaurs there, so he is rolling with the changes effectively, but the big labels just keep on burying themselves, and their list of friends is running very very short.

Their whole business model is evaporating. Now that anyone with a PC and a good ear can record perfectly acceptable-sounding, if not super-high-quality pro-studio sounding music at home on their own for very little money, artists don't need a record company to drop $500,000 on recording an album (and never really did, as you can do a kickass top-shelf recording and mixing job for under $100K anyway) anymore. With the internet and a bit of hard legwork, anyone with some decent tunes can get those tunes out for next to no expense, and build enough of an audience to make a reasonable living off their music, over time. So the labels, which at one end "owned" the artists by lending them money, and at the other end owned the different distribution media (vinyl, tapes, CDs) that they would sell to the audience, now have little to offer either the artists or the audience. Which means they are dead meat, since they made all their money on selling the vinyl, tapes and CDs, the physical media... and those are going to be superseded by all online delivery.

The only thing they have left is the "marketing clout" to publicize an artist all over the world to millions of people - and that's not to be downplayed, they are really the only organizations that can make someone famous in a hurry. However, I'm betting most bands these days are wised up, and would rather build an audience that really loves their stuff in a more organic way.

Anyway, so I wrote Sony a letter, and I would encourage you to do the same. Here's my letter:

Dear Sony,

Boy oh boy, you guys have really screwed it up with this DRM malware installation thing. What I really can't believe is how arrogant and unresponsive you're being about it all. You are damaging people's computers and making them vulnerable to hackers and viruses, and you really just don't seem to care, do you.

You are chiseling the imprint in your corporate headstone by doing what you're doing. Nobody wants your DRM-infested music. Nobody wants your silly DRM-loaded proprietary-formatted music players. You have really, really offended a lot of people, and it's going to hurt you.

Everyone I know who likes music at all is appalled by your arrogance, selfishness and foolishness in your greedy attempt to control every aspect of your customers's listening experience. I'm sorry, but you have lost control of the "vinyl," and you're not going to get it back no matter what you do. Hard media like CDs are going the way of the dodo, and you will not be able to recover control in the rapidly-expanding world of online storage and file transfer. I know many people have been telling you this, and you've been ignoring them for what, about 8 years now? Too bad you can't act like a company should, and adapt to a new set of business model requirements, instead of attempting to maintain your old business model which simply does not work anymore.

I have been a loyal Sony customer on the hardware side for more than 20 years now; I have at least $15,000 worth of Sony hardware just in my living room entertainment center, and when I used CRT monitors for my Apple Macs, Sony was the only brand I'd buy. I have been extremely happy with all my Sony hardware, which has always been of exceptional quality and reliability.

Lots of my old favorite music artists were and are still on Sony labels. BMG, not so much, but I know I have stuff from them.

I've explained my prior history with you, because I want you to understand very very clearly what I'm saying with the rest of this email.

I'm really quite offended by your actions with this DRM malware. You are endangering peoples's personal computers and any information thereon, for no good reason and really out of your own fear and greed. Therefore, from this point onwards, I will no longer buy anything that Sony or BMG sells. Until you abandon your arrogant and futile attempts to keep hold of the shreds of your market, I will not buy anything you make, even though I've been a loyal customer, and I will urge everyone I know to also stop buying your products of all kinds.

I was going to buy a beautiful Sony large-screen TV for Christmas this year, but instead I'm going to get the Mitsubishi. You lose a $9,000 sale.

I'm kind of sad about this, but you've gone too far.

I'm sending a copy of this email to your hardware division as well, with the recommendation that the Sony Corporation sell off all its content divisions immediately, so they can get back to making awesome electronic hardware, without your DRM demands destroying their business.

Good luck, folks... you're gonna need it.

Jeff Zugale
Los Angeles, CA

Actually, I can't boycott everything they make, because I work in the game biz and they make Playstation 2s and PSPs, so that part of their business I'll support under some protest. At least the game side is not connected at all to the music side, so I'm cool with that. I would urge all of you to do the same, just stop buying anything that Sony or BMG puts out. That won't be easy, but even if you can cut your Sony BMG purchases in half, they will feel it.

Oh, and I'm exaggerating a bit about the big-screen TV. I was gonna buy one next year, but not the $9000 one. Even so, I won't buy a Sony big-screen now. A little exaggeration isn't going to hurt them. :)

So there ya go. I probably won't comment much more about this, as I consider the subject pretty much closed. The huge music conglomerates are dying an ugly death, and it's their own damn fault. Too bad for them.

Meanwhile, this weekend was most excellent. The Girl and I spent pretty much the whole weekend together at my place. The cats are cool with her little dog, which I'm very happy about, I was worried they might not get along. We did a lot of running around and shopping, got some new motorcycle helmets which are awesome, and I took The Girl - actually, I need to upgrade that to "The Girlfriend" - for a couple of rides on the bike. She was only moderately terrified, so I'd count that as success! I also bought the final pieces of the recording studio (a good vocal mic and some powered monitor speakers) so that's all set now. We had some nice lunch and dinner out and about, went to a party, watched football, and really just had a nice long weekend together. I haven't done that in a very long time. I hope there will be many more such weekends. :)

So, now looking forward to this weekend for my 40th Birthday Party. Yes, that's right, I'm turning FORTY on Sunday 11/20. Can you believe it? I sure can't. I don't feel 40 at all, except for the thinning hair... Most guys my age have a very different life from mine. I guess I've managed to extend my adolescence pretty effectively! :)

The party will be at the Westwood Brewing Company, which is at 1097 Glendon Ave (cross st. Kinross) in Westwood (where UCLA is), starting around 7:30-8 this Saturday, 11/19. If you're in the area, come on down! I have to set up and send out an evite, I guess. I'll get on that momentarily.

Anyway, I have to get back to work. But this really has been a good year... a really good year. Everything has changed so much for me. Maybe that whole "life begins at 40" thing is really true. I guess I'll find out soon enough... :)
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