October 10, 2003

Crazy Week: Exploding Cell Phones, Stealth Spammers, & Suit Over Shift Key

Is it just me, or are technology and lawsuits getting just a little bit out of hand here?

First there are reports of exploding Nokia and Kyocera cell phones. I can just see the next Verizon commercial: "Can you hear me now?" Kaboom! Slashdot posters have provided many more jabs, many of them quite good if you enjoy the bent humor.

Seriously though, while everyone else is concerned about the well-being of the victims (as am I), Nokia is furiously finding any way to point the finger at someone else -- according to them, it must be the aftermarket batteries, it just has to be (even though one incident involved a brand new Nokia phone and Nokia battery). Some are theorizing that it could be the internal phone batteries are overheating when the phone's metal contacts touch other metallic objects in a person's pocket, like coins and keys. I've had my camera's lithium battery get super hot that way on a business trip once, so it's not that farfetched.

Next, Wired reports how crackers are teaming up with spammers to the tune of $1,500 per month to provide stealthed web sites for spammers. Among other means, the crackers achieved this feat by infecting over 450,000 PC's with trojans. I agree with the quote at the end of the article -- these "people" (and I use that term loosely) need to spend some nice quality time in jail.

Lastly, the Internet is just buzzing over the Princeton student who discovered how to circumvent SunnComm's self-proclaimed "robust and effective" audio CD anti-piracy system. He reported that to bypass it, just hold down the Shift key when inserting the protected CD into a Windows-based PC -- this bypasses any "autorun" feature on any CD. Naturally, SunnComm is suing the student for violating the DMCA and harming the company. In my humble opinion, the only thing that harmed the company was the wingnuts who designed the weak system in the first place.

This ranks right up there with the last audio CD copy protection scheme that was thwarted with a 59-cents felt-tip marker pen. These guys just don't get it: The Shift key thing is a feature of Windows, and I can even set my CD reader or burner to never autorun a CD if I wish via the "auto insert notification" setting. I'd love to see a malicious prosecution claim prevail against SunnComm with nice big punis. Even better, let's see SunComm sue Microsoft for creating a feature "'in a manner which facilitates infringement' in violation of the DMCA or other applicable law." That'll fly like a boat anchor.

After a tech week like this, TGIF.

[10/10/03 11:30 p.m. Update:]

SunnComm has reconsidered and will not sue the Princeton student. Their press release states: "According to SunnComm CEO, legal action would not repair the damage done and could potentially cause a "chilling effect" on the type of research that faculty, staff, and students of institutions of higher learning elect to pursue in the future."

Nice spin doctoring, but who do they think they're kidding? It's very difficult to believe that a litigious-minded DRM developer has suddenly become altruistic overnight. Probable translation for SunnComm: They don't want to make the situation worse by earning the ire and backlash of the general and Internet population, who already despise the RIAA and their file-sharing lawsuits. They also strongly dislike the idea of DRM-controlled audio CD's (which, technically, are not "Compact Discs", if they violate the CD standard). Besides, who wants to buy an audio disc that installs unwanted DRM software on their PC? Remember the Great TurboTax Disaster of 2003? Message to the industry: Windows already has enough problems of its own, we don't need more just for your benefit.

SunnComm's music publishing clients probably also don't want the negative publicity as they're trying to push these non-standard CD's on a less-than-enthusiastic buying public. So they'll collectively let this one pass and lick their wounds. They probably also consulted with their attorneys and found out that their intended lawsuit was on shaky ground to begin with. They have more to lose than win here. In other words, even if they could win the legal battle, they'd lose the war because consumers would probably end up boycotting these audio discs in protest, and/or find even more ways to thwart the DRM protections en masse. Either way, it does their music publishing clients no good. SunnComm is now effectively caught between a rock and a hard place if they do anything overtly.

Please note this is my objective analysis of the situation, nothing more and nothing less.

Topic(s):   Other Musings
Posted by Jeff Beard