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Sony BMG Sued for Software Piracy

by March 31, 2008

As I am sure many readers of Audioholics are aware, the various members of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) are staunch proponents of enforcing and strengthening Intellectual Property (IP) laws, particularly related to unauthorized (sic unpaid) digital distribution of music. The various members of the RIAA and the IFPI have been vociferous and active, both at home and abroad in the quest to thwart IP piracy. With activities ranging from suing college kids by the thousands for illegal downloading, to pressuring ISP to start actively filtering the Internet for pirated content, to pushing Congress to jack up statutory penalties for infringement, to commandeering the US DoJ to act as a private investigator, to using to United States government in an attempt to foist US styled DMCA laws on every other sovereign nation through WIPO treaties.

So, what does an RIAA member company like Sony BMG do when they need some business software to coordinate all these activities?

Why, just borrow it of course, indefinitely, without payment.

Like a mugger who wears shoes that light up while running, apparently someone at Sony BMG called up to get tech support for an ill gotten program called Ideal Migration. When the French developer, PointDev, looked into the support case, they discovered that the software activation key used by Sony BMG was pirated. One Business Software Alliance (BSA) raid later, it turns out that the program was installed on four different servers.

Cast into the light of testimony from the head of Sony BMG litigation, Jennifer Pariser who attempted to undermine the legality of the fair use concepts of time shifting and space shifting established by the Betamax Decision from before Sony owned any media interests:

Gabriel asked if it was wrong for consumers to make copies of music which they have purchased, even just one copy. Pariser replied, "When an individual makes a copy of a song for himself, I suppose we can say he stole a song." Making "a copy" of a purchased song is just "a nice way of saying 'steals just one copy'," she said.

Jennifer Pariser, via Ars Technica

That would just be four stolen copies on Sony BMG servers. At least CD ripping involves one purchased copy.

Furthermore, according to the BSA, over 47% of the all of the software on the company’s servers was acquired via the digital equivalent of the five fingered discount.

PointDev is seeking 300,000 EUR (approximately $475,000 USD) in damages from Sony BMG.

According to a report translated from French, PointDev CEO Paul-Henry Agustoni says he is not interested in the money. He is looking to make an example of the case. Agustoni does not believe that this is the act of a single employee of Sony BMG, but more likely company policy. Considering the amount of illicit software found on seized company servers, such would seem quite plausible.

As Agustoni points out, if an employee has company funding to buy software, they typically will. But if they are not given the funding to buy necessary software, well, the work still has to get done somehow.

There is very little question that a subsidiary of an international conglomerate the size of Sony could not afford to buy software produced by a six employee company like PointDev. Apparently, the software was appropriated around the time Sony and Bertelsmann were merging, so it would seem that Sony had enough money to buy out half of BMG, but not enough to pay a software developer who had IP that could make the merger less painful for the employees who actually had to make the two businesses compatible.

So when is copying IP not theft? When it is someone else’s IP; at least according to Sony BMG.

In related news, Sony BMG asked La Province not to report on the ongoing investigation.

Seems Sony BMG would prefer that this not get around.

About the author:
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Professionally, David engineers building structures. He is also a musician and audio enthusiast. David gives his perspective about loudspeakers and complex audio topics from his mechanical engineering and HAA Certified Level I training.

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