Sony settles rootkit lawsuits for $1.5m

Sony has settled two lawsuits brought against it for its copy protection software for $1.5 million.


Sony has settled two lawsuits brought against it for its copy protection software for $1.5 million.

The company was sued by the states of California and Texas for shipping CDs with a copy protection program that used dangerous "rootkit" techniques to cloak itself after installation. Sony first released the technology in late 2005 and settled a class-action lawsuit against it seven months ago.

Sony licensed this software from First 4 Internet, based in the UK, but problems were also found with a second copy protection program used by Sony. That software, called Media Max, was developed by US company SunnComm.

Texas had been the only state with an outstanding lawsuit related to the rootkit fiasco, but other state's attorneys general and the US Federal Trade Commission had also been looking into the matter, according to Jeff McGrath, deputy district attorney with Los Angeles County, which participated in the California lawsuit.

Sony has now reached tentative settlements with more than a dozen other states, including Massachusetts and Nebraska, as well as the FTC, McGrath said. The California lawsuit was both filed and settled on Tuesday.

Sony's rootkit software shipped on an estimated 15 million CDs, bundled with music from artists such as Frank Sinatra, Celine Dion and Earl Scruggs. Consumers were offered refunds as part of the May class-action agreement, but Tuesday's settlements take additional steps by compensating them for damages caused by the rootkit code and "ensuring that this type of thing will not happen again," McGrath said.

California and Texas consumers who believe that their computers were damaged by Sony's software can receive up to $175 to cover repair costs. The agreements also force Sony to submit any software it ships with music CDs to third-party audits for the next five years.

Sony has created a website to address its rootkit settlement. That site is eventually expected to include instructions for consumers seeking refunds for their PC repairs. Since the rootkit fiasco, Sony has stopped shipping digital rights management software with its music CDs. However, if it does add this capability to future CDs, it must make this clear to customers.

"They're requiring disclosures to consumers before sale on the CD packaging," said Corynne McSherry, a lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "I think that's really crucial. Part of the whole background of the rootkit fiasco was that consumers just didn't know what they were getting into."

A Sony spokesman declined to comment on investigations by the FTC and other states. "We are pleased to have reached agreements with the offices of the California and Texas Attorneys General," he said.

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