Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott filed a civil lawsuit on Monday against Sony BMG Music Entertainment for hiding “spyware” software on its compact discs in a bid to thwart music copying.
According to the lawsuit filed in Travis County, several of the company’s music compact discs require customers to download Sony’s media players if they want to listen to the CDs on a computer.
Software included with that media player “remains hidden and active” after installation, the Attorney General’s office said, and makes users vulnerable to security risks and possible identity theft.
Sony said on its Web site that it had recalled all CDs that were installed with its XCP technology designed to prevent illegal music copying, Abbott said, but Texas investigators were able to purchase several of the CDs at Austin retailers on Sunday.
Texas is seeking civil penalties of $100,000 per violation of the state’s Consumer Protection Against Computer Spyware Act, which was enacted earlier this year.
“Sony has engaged in a technological version of cloak and dagger deceit against consumers by hiding secret files on their computers,” Abbott said.
Sony announced on Friday that customers could exchange CDs that contained XCP software for new copies without the spyware, and download software designed to fix the security vulnerabilities.
“While we don’t comment on pending litigation we are cooperating fully with the attorney general’s office,” a spokesman said on Monday.
The CDs, from 52 popular artists, including Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong and Celine Dion, prompt a user agreement to appear on consumers’ computer screens.
Users are required to accept the agreement in order to play the CDs on their computer, and Sony’s media player is automatically downloaded to their computers with the hidden files.
Earlier this month, a software virus was detected in a mass email designed to exploit the Sony BMG software and wreak havoc on computers. The “malware” program enables hackers to access computers by bypassing firewall protections.
Separately, the Electronic Frontier Foundation said it had filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles County against Sony BMG to pay for damage caused by XCP and SunnComm MediaMax software it used on as many as 24 million CDs.
The XCP software is extremely difficult to remove, EFF said, “often leaving reformatting the computer’s hard drive as the only solution.”
The MediaMax software also installs files on users’ computers even if they decline to accept SunnComm’s terms in a licensing agreement. That software allows the company to track customers’ listening habits despite denials the company collects such data.