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What Were You Thinking, Sony?

Sony (NYSE: SNE  ) hasn't exactly been one of my favorite companies as of late. Last week's debacle made me wonder -- not for the first time this year -- just what Sony's thinking these days. In its zeal to protect its musical CDs from "casual" copying, Sony unleashed what many said was the equivalent of spyware on its customers' computers.

Sony BMG Music Entertainment recently released 20 albums on CD that installed copy protection software called XCP on users' machines without seeking permission first. In addition, the CDs installed something called a "rootkit," which would hide the software's presence on the machines. The software was meant to prevent users from copying the CDs, but critics called it not much better than spyware, the bane of computer users everywhere. To make matters much, much worse, hackers were able to exploit the technology in order to hide malicious software.

As it turns out, soon after the outcry about the controversy rippled through the media, Sony stopped using the software (although the company remained "unapologetic" regarding its intent to protect its music from copying). Discontinuing the use of the technology is the right decision for many reasons, not least of which is the public outcry. But one must still ask why on Earth Sony would do such a thing in the first place. (Meanwhile, Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) also issued an update that will allow Windows users to remove the offensive software.)

I wrote about recording industry executives and their attitude toward Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) success with music back in April. Increasingly, music companies like Sony BMG are treating their customers like criminals who borrow, rather than purchase, their products. This newest development signals the ways that the recording industry is going on the offensive. Not content to tackle peer-to-peer networks, the music companies are now attacking what they call "casual piracy." (Yes, that means you making one copy of a CD for a friend, it appears.)

Sony's move just goes way beyond the pale with that idea -- providing an intrusive technology that, in effect, hijacked its customers' computers. (As an aside, it also prevented users from putting its music on the most popular music player of the moment, the iPod.) It's really unbelievable when you think about it.

In my opinion, a huge, disruptive shift in the way people acquire and use their music is fairly imminent, and heavy-handed moves from the recording industry don't make things any easier for companies or consumers. They certainly don't make people feel sympathetic toward the music industry, and I would imagine this recent development makes many consumers extremely distrustful of Sony. People who have invested in Sony might do well to carefully consider some of the company's recent blunders, many of which seem to display a rather blatant disregard for its customers.

More on Sony lately:

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Alyce Lomaxdoes not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. The Fool has a disclosure policy.

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