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Sony Settles Lawsuits In U.S. Over Hidden CD Spyware

Sony BMG has resolved two additional lawsuits relating to CDs produced by the firm that contained a concealed copy-protection program that exposed users' computers to hackers and viruses. Sony will pay Texas and California $750,000 each to cover legal costs. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said that the Extended Copy Protection (XCP) or MediaMax technology breached consumers' privacy and in some instances caused damage to computers when users attempted to erase it.

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer further stated that no information about the software was given with the CD even though it set itself up in unseen files on users' computers. Sony refused to accept any charge of wrongdoing. It expressed satisfaction at the settlement of the dispute with the offices of the California and Texas Attorneys General.

Sony sold 52 CD titles as recently as in 2005 along with the software. The copy protection software installs itself when the CD is run in a computer. The program exploits a technique called a rootkit to conceal the fact that it is operating, making it harder to uninstall it.

Security experts are of the opinion that the Sony software, though not in itself harmful, does not stop operating even when the CD is removed. At least one computer virus has been known to be concealed in the same way. The program could also read and send IP addresses, thereby pinpointing the user and transmitting personal information to Sony BMG.

As part of the settlement, which is still to be approved by a judge, Sony BMG will make reimbursement of up to $175 to California users who can furnish a documented account of harm to their computers. The company will also disburse $750,000 in penalties and fees to settle accusations of misleading advertising, inequitable competition and illegal computer intrusion.

In a statement, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer said that companies wishing to write copy-protection programs into CDs should inform consumers completely. Moreover, the program should not create security flaws in computers.

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