Nothing Is Sound

Nothing Is Sound by Switchfoot I’ve been listening to a lot of Switchfoot‘s music lately; I never tire of their blend of catchy pop-rock and inspirational, meaningful lyrics. Sad to say, all my Switchfoot tracks weren’t acquired through purchasing their CDs, although for the past few weeks I’ve been trying to change that by locating and purchasing their latest album, Nothing Is Sound (2005).

Unfortunately, there’s this beast of a computer program called XCP included in a number of their record label Sony-BMG’s releases. Last November I wrote about the nasty malware-type actions of this XCP bug. It’s supposed to be copy-protection technology to prevent the user from making more than a limited number of copies of the disc or ripping the content into MP3 files. (Afterdawn.com has an article on the legitimate uses of CD ripping and why the recording and entertainment industry don’t want people making copies for personal use.)

However, XCP installs itself without the user’s knowledge or consent, then more or less hijacks the computer system. It also has some serious open backdoor issues which leave a way for trojan viruses to sneak into the computer while it’s connected to the Internet.

Sony-BMG supposedly ordered a recall of Nothing Is Sound as well as the other infected albums, and has offered non-XCP discs to exchange with these at the point of purchase. There’s even a settlement website where people can file claims for exchanging their CDs, although it seems to be only for the benefit of residents in the United States.

And that’s where my main problem lies. XCP has received so much press in the United States, and the threat of a class-action lawsuit forced Sony-BMG to pull its act together there. Here in the Philippines, however, consumer rights seem to be secondary to ensuring business profitability, and Filipino customers culturally aren’t very vocal about failure of service or product (politicians are the notable exceptions — there is always someone around to criticize them). After more than six months since the infected Switchfoot CDs were pulled off shelves in the US, record stores in the Philippines are still receiving shipments of XCP-“protected” discs.

Last Sunday I was at SM Megamall and dropped by Radio City to look for the aforementioned album. I was so excited when I spotted it that I almost bought it on the spot. Then I remembered the signs to look for when determining if a CD has XCP packaged with it: A symbol on the spine of the CD with the text “Content Protected,” and a box on the back panel of the CD with the URL “cp.sonybmg.com/xcp”. I checked the CD, and sure enough it had both of them. This stopped me dead cold in my purchase-bent tracks, and I put the CD back in the display and decided to try my luck with other stores.

I thought that Tower Records/Music One was a chain of stores major enough to warrant a fresh, non-XCP shipment of albums. The CDs proved me wrong again (frustrating!!!) and I just had to ask the saleslady, “Miss, when did these CDs arrive?” She took a look at the barcode sticker and told me the store had received them only in May of this year. Again, I forced myself to walk out without buying the CD.

That night, I logged onto the website of Sony-BMG Philippines to see what was really up. To my surprise, the website proclaims:

Sony BMG Philippines has not released any XCP-Protected CDs. Local patrons need not worry about content protection software installation on their PCs, or any threat of infection from the virus which exploits said protection.

…which is complete bollocks since I saw such CDs with my own eyes. Still, I was willing to give Sony-BMG Philippines the benefit of the doubt, since the record shops I had been to that day might have imported the CDs instead of acquiring them from the local label. I withdrew the benefit of the doubt when I visited an SM Record Bar this past Thursday and again found XCP-protected Nothing Is Sound discs.

There is an avenue of redress provided by Sony-BMG Philippines. The site continues:

Should despite this, [sic] any of Sony|BMG’s local patrons find themselves having a purchased CD with content protection software embedded therein, please call our offices at 632.636.37.21 that appropriate action may be taken.

Ibig sabihin, nakabili na. (Meaning, the customer has already purchased a problem disc.) I don’t even think they’ve made an effort to pull out XCP-infected discs and instead are relying on the consumer to pipe up and ask for a replacement. It’s no skin off their nose if the poor buyer doesn’t know any better to avoid such CDs in the first place.

I’m holding out on buying the Nothing Is Sound album until Sony-BMG Philippines starts releasing non-XCP versions. However, I will be buying Switchfoot’s earlier album The Beautiful Letdown (2003). I like all the tracks on it, but more importantly, it doesn’t have XCP. It’s a sound CD.

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