Using blogs and the media for change: the Sony BMG case study

With the notable exception of the issues that surfaced this weekend about Sony BMG’s lack of a plan to address their international customers’ issues, it seems like most of the primary news about the rootkit fiasco has broken. I thought this might be a good time to take a look at how the story broke and became mainstream news, for a few reasons. First, from a theoretical standpoint we are still in the process of developing an understanding of the relationship between blogs and the media, and are rather shy on good case studies–and as I believe I mentioned once before, the Sony BMG story makes a heck of a good case study.

Second, one of the reasons I started this blog was to actually make a difference. I was reading commentary on Slashdot about the original Sysinternals blog post, and many commentators were griping about how evil Sony was and how something should be done. I thought to myself, Well, yes, something should be done. So why don’t we put our money where our mouths are and do something? In other words, I thought of this blog as a way to raise awareness of the nasty business practices of Sony BMG, and as a result I have a keen interest in how the story spread from the tech blogosphere to the mainstream media.

So what happened? A few notes, starting with a selective timeline that focuses on media coverage and major themes:

That’s a lot–but it’s a lot of events. A few things to note: first, the usual suspects — Slashdot,, Wired, various trade publications, etc.–were on the story from the beginning. The NPR spot was the first mainstream article on the brouhaha, and picked up on the rootkit angle. After that, it took a full six days–and the announcement that trojans were spreading that exploited the rootkit and that several states were filing lawsuits–for the story to make any more traction in the mainstream press. The following day, Sony BMG began to retrench its position, announcing a halt to production of XCP-protected discs. Still, it took three more days after that for the story to hit critical mass with the mainstream print media.

So here’s the point: the story only made the mainstream after the threat to the customer, or the threat to the company, is clear and present. If you are a technologist who wants to shift public opinion regarding some technology development, writing about it is an important first step. But without smoking guns like actual exploits that target rootkitted systems, it’s hard to get the story heard.

For proof of that, one has only to look at the Broadcast Flag and Analog Hole initiatives that keep popping up. Both arguably represent greater threats to customers than this rootkit case; both seek to redesign hardware, either the PC or mass market electronics, to restrict the rights of customers. But both lack a compelling smoking gun to show the harm that implementation of the restrictions would do to customers.

Another point, and one that some readers may not want to hear: the legal system and the class action lawsuit were clear contributors to the eventual decision that Sony took to withdraw XCP from the market. In fact, class action lawsuits may be the most important arrow in the quiver when faced with a company that just doesn’t want to listen to the market.

Last point: while blogging about the story is important, sometimes the type of blog makes a difference. I got very few hits on the first two posts I wrote about this back on my own blog. But the same storyline on a dedicated, single subject blog with a catchy URL and title got huge traction. While the media struggles to deal with the all embracing scope of most blogs, perhaps meeting them halfway with special blogs with a singular focus and (possibly) limited scope is the right way to get the message across.

8 Responses to “Using blogs and the media for change: the Sony BMG case study”

  1. David Fedoruk Says:

    These are valuable observations. I am about to start my own blog. There are several things I am quite passionate about and the question in my mind has been whether I should put disparate subjet matter in the same blog or in different blogs.

    Let me point out another extremely successfull single purpose blog; that is Groklaw. Perhaps the mainstream press has not quite gotten onto the site yet, however, it is clear that the Pamela Jones site has galvenized the open source community in ways never seen before. That single purpose blog is now covering other legal stories which directly affect consumers and how they will be able to interact on the Internet.

    The professional/academic world has long looked down on lay people as “amatures” and “dilatents”, but some of us “amatures” have extensive backgrounds in the subjects we speak about and have the added advantage of not having pear pressure push us in one direction or the other. Kudos to you and all the other bloggers who are making a difference and keeping mainstream media on their toes!


  2. Anti-DRM Says:

    This blog is very interesting. Makes us imagine given the inability of any major anit-virus maker to flag this, as well as the initial silence of major companies such as Microsoft, where big business really stands with regards to profit margins and customer satisfaction.

    What is disturbing, is the almost reluctant hesitance in mainstream media picking the story. Thus in this case, independent bloggers were all that stood between a big business and hapless/ sometimes apathetic consumers.

    Despite how it turned on Sony BMG, will can independent blogggers effectively curtail the ambitions of unscruplous big business? Unfortunately no. We will inevitably have more episodes such as this one, as it had the tacit support by silence from Microsoft and Anti-Virus companies, plus the frighteningly vocal support of RIAA.

    In summary, the only good thing here is that Sony BMG got caught. The sadder picture is, consumers must realise that NO big business has their interest at heart. NONE.

    All about the $$$$

    Many thanks to independent researchers and bloggers for their labour and under-appreciated service to consumers. The road ahead is a bumpy rough one. Thank God for the events that led to this disclosure.

  3. Mike Says:

    Actually the BBC was quicker off the mark than that. Mark Ward, one of their technology correspondents, ran the story on 3rd November; and I’d suspect *this* was the first time it hit the mainstream:

    The Beeb is better at this kind of thing than most of the mainstream media. It maintains a permanent technology section:

    I suspect this has much to do with its simply being able to afford to do so.

  4. Roly Roper Says:

    From an Australian perspective;


  5. Saskboy Says:
    An Ontario Law firm contacted me today through my blog, and asked me to direct Canadian customers affected by XCP DRM, to contact them.


  6. Tony Says:

    -Not to nitpick but it’s “arrow in the quiver” - not the reverse.

    Love ya!

  7. Tim Jarrett Says:

    Thanks, Tony. I’ve made the correction and appreciate your not nitpicking! :)

  8. Abram Razzuvaev Says:

    Just few adds on russian market. Looks like this have been triggered by BBC.
    Nov 03 2005 covered the story based on information from BBC
    Nov 04 2005 Dialog Nauka LAB announce and so on

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