music, opinion and technology


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Wikipedia, being a user-authored and -moderated encyclopaedia, has much in common with the fictional Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: “it has many omissions and contains much that is apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate”. It seems to me that the most reliable and sensible articles are those in the mainstream, subjected to the most eyeballs, and hence the most corrections. The Sony article is such an article, and contains the following understatement:

Sony has historically been notable for creating its own in-house standards for new recording and storage technologies instead of adopting those of other manufacturers and standards bodies.

For as long as I’ve had any interest in shopping for technology, before I even had the money to indulge it, I’ve avoided Sony for just this reason. The first strike against them in my book was MiniDisc, which they tried to position as a replacement for the CD, at least partially, selling pre-recorded music on it. They repeated the pattern with Memory Stick, and recently with the UMD discs for the PlayStation Portable (PSP).

The content on these media is inevitably by Sony artists, which also sets alarm bells ringing; the thought of a single corporation owning the whole entertainment production process gives me the willies. After their takeover of Columbia Entertainment’s roster, they could sign up artists (musicians, film producers etc.), and have Marxist-grade control over the means of production, distribution, and consumption of their products. Think I’m exaggerating? OK, Sony don’t make guitars or drums, but they make mixing desks and recorders for studios, both for multitrack and mastering. They then release the content on their proprietary formats, which can only be used on equipment made or licensed by them.

They have tried all this in the Film and TV worlds too; after the failure of Betamax video – which wasn’t bad technically. Sony make video cameras of all types, including HiDef ones used for films such as this year’s Collateral. They tried to lock down Surround Sound formats with SDDS, but failed against Dolby and DTS. Now we have the aforementioned UMD (PSP only), and are fighting to push their Blu-Ray as the next-generation DVD format, to be played on Sony and Sony-licensed drives, ideally on Sony TVs.

All this means that I have informally boycotted Sony products for at least a decade now. Informal, because I just kept it to myself or to anyone who asked, and may have bought a standard CD or two released on Sony Records, such as a couple by Pearl Jam. As of this week it’s formal and public, because they have stepped way over the line in their attempts at world domination. It was discovered that DRM-protected CDs, when played on PCs, have been installing clandestine services on your computers. These have been termed as “rootkits”, but I’m not convinced that’s quite the correct term; if it really is a “rootkit”, then Sony will be able to access it remotely and get “root” (i.e complete) control over your PC.

This has hit the mainstream media in the last few days, including the BBC, yet yesterday IT news site The Register was moved to comment:

“It is alarming how little outrage there is from ordinary PC users. While Register readers are well versed in the restrictions of DRM and the dangers of malware, there’s little sign the public shares this knowledge.

Well: if I don’t sound terribly outraged, it’s because I am only vaguely surprised. The RIAA in the USA has been talking up aggressive tactics of this nature for some time now, and it was inevitable, if unethical and possibly illegal. It will be interesting to see what happens next, but Sony are completely off my shopping list for good now.

What depresses me about all this is: every time I wonder if I’m being too cynical about people and corporations, and their motives, along comes something like this to show me that I’m not overreacting. Last month it was the poor response to the earthquake in Pakistan, before that the hurricane disaster mismanagement in the US. Mix in the constant “race to the bottom” in the business world, the drive for short-term profits at the expense of all other considerations, and I have to wonder if we’ll even need a handbasket to get to Hell. We don’t need to go looking for it, it’s expanding to cover this world, encroaching daily.


Written by brian t

November 4, 2005 at 1:12 pm

Posted in japan, movies, music, technology

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