Sony Sucks

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Sony Sucks

Read about one of the top most frustrating experiences of my musical life. Originally posted on Blogger Saturday, December 20, 2008, now with updates.

Sony Sucks

I have owned an MZ-M100 Hi-MD recorder for about two years now. I am a performer, producer and sound designer. I purchased the Sony MD after many years of resisting the MD format. The compression and DRM issues that I had heard about seemed like to much hassle. Prior, I usually used a DAT recorder, but I grew tired of the laborious task of transferring DAT to PC. When Hi-MD came out, I figured there was enough incentive for me to have one, and they are much more portable, which could aid me in my interest of capturing found sounds.

I really had very little trouble until some PC issues forced me to ghost my machine. A trojan horse and a bad hard drive – all within the course of the same week – forced me to upgrade to a new machine. I am smart enough to make regular data backups to other hard drives and DVD, but never even considered using the built-in Sonic Stage backup tool.

I was down for almost two weeks and it was exhausting getting back up and running. Reinstalling the MD software was not a priority, so it was a couple months later after having my new machine that I decided to get back to my found sound studies and see what else I may have recorded that was worth checking out. That’s when the shi** hit the fan and I realized (like so many others on this forum) that I could not play some of my OMA files.

While in some cases I had converted recordings to WAV on my old machine, there were 4.5 GB of other sessions (CD release party gigs, rehearsals, hotel songwriting sessions, found percussion) that I did not take the time to convert to WAV on my old computer. So I now found them inaccessible from Sonic Stage. They would not play, and I could not convert or transfer them in anyway. Perhaps what bothers me most is that there are sessions that I don’t have notes for, so I don’t know what I might be missing.

I found an online forum at http://forum.dbpoweramp.com/ and began going through all of the steps presented there, and a few others. I was on the phone with Sony for 2.5 hours yesterday (12/18/08) with both 1st and 2nd level support. I was patient with them, but they were no help. They had me install an MP3 converter which was useless. I am still not 100% sure the three techs I talked to had any real clue of what the problem was or how to address it. I offered to mail copies of the files and pay Sony a fee to make the conversion to something I could read, and they said they do not offer that service. Since I am probably not the only person willing to PAY FOR the service, this just boggles my mind!

My old PC has a different hard drive now and is really just a junker, so I decided to see if I could “fool” it into accessing the files. After another two hours, no luck. I’m an advanced PC user and software designer, but I’m no expert when it comes to registry hacks, so I didn’t have much luck there. I did have a backup of my old PC registry, so I attempted to overlay that on the ghosted old PC, but that didn’t work. I noticed there is a registry element called Decrypt Splitter, so my guess is that it has some relevance. I can’t work/think in binary, so this is a job for someone much more advanced. One thing is for sure, this stuff is locked down!

I am posting this for a few reasons. First, I want to echo what the folks have said about fooling yourself into thinking you are going to crack this by simple methods (changing extensions, etc). If you can not play them you are out of luck. Walk away until you hear of a true solution.

Second, I wanted to encourage the hacker community to get on this. Apparently OMA was discontinued in March 2008 (from other web research I noted). Sony should at the very least offer transfer options for people. If they will not, then the music/computer community owes it to itself to crack this. Sony has no right to lock us out of our own material. Users impacted by this may wish to see if there is grounds for a class action lawsuit, though I admit I am not a lawyer and do not know how you’d even start with that.

Third, my wife and I were in the market for a flat screen, and Sony was on our list of possible brands. Not any more. I realize this is a small form of protest, but perhaps others can make the same choice and vote with their wallets.

I am keeping the OMA files just in case someone cracks this. If anyone has information leading to that, please let me know.

Update: Feb 22, 2009 – Some more research on an Ethnomusicology list turned up a reference to Sony Media Services who may be able to help. My material is on its way to them so we’ll see. Here’s the link: http://www.sonymediaservices.com/

Also, some people who have read my post think assume that I still had the data on MD, which is not the case here. The data was transferred to my old PC in the native OMA format that Sony uses, and the problem lies in the fact that their copy protection doesn’t allow another PC to access the files. Had I converted them to WAV at the same time that I transferred the original files from the MD, then I wouldn’t have a problem (and in fact, that is what I typically do, but in these cases due to lack of time I didn’t bother). I now make it my practice to convert to WAV immediately, whatever it takes. As for the original MD media, they are overwritten many times over with other projects, so were no good here.

All I have are the original OMA files, and they won’t even play on my new PC because they are not recognized as belonging to me. If you read the web site I sent, you will see that if you can’t play them, then you are stuck. There are many misconceptions about how to get around this, and many folks have spent many hours with no results. Yes, I know if I *could* play them then I could use an analog connection to capture the sound on another device. You would lose some quality of course, but at least you would have the files. But making an analog copy is not even possible if you can’t play the material.

As for formats going out of style, and making backups – that’s not really the problem here. I have many duplicates of the actual OMA files, but that did me no good. My error was not converting to WAV right away. Sony’s error is not allowing for more flexible use of the device/files that we own. There is some small possibility that if I used the proprietary Sonic Stage backup process, that I might be able to recover the files. But with the added variable of a new PC, and protection software that seems to “know” what PC is being used to open the files, it is likely I would have the same problem.

And this was not a question of compatibility – I used the same operating system, software versions, etc for the new PC.

March 13, 2009 Update – I got a kind, hand-written letter and my copies from one of the techs working on my stuff. He noted that they a) had no luck because my material was showing up as “copy written,” and b) they had a copy of my stuff now and didn’t need the disks I sent them.

What follows is part of my response to them as I feel it is relevant for folks to push back on this in anyway they can.

I just want to clear one thing up and make sure we’re on the same page. As a software designer and analyst myself, I know that what a program or piece of gear “says” is the case, and what is actually, in reality – factually correct – are often two different things. The material in question is mine.

I hold the copyright. In the case of the material from my own CD release parties/rehearsals, I can easily prove that. The rest is original recording that obviously would not have been sent to the copyright office yet because I didn’t get through the material yet. The very nature of copyright is that, as soon as I record my original work, it is mine. So yes, of course it is copyrighted (via a human convention that the software can’t “know”).

In any case, any reference to “copyright” that your algorithms use is arbitrary at best. For one thing, how can your software “know” that the song/performance in question is registered to a particular entity and the copyright office? It can’t. That’s one of the most frustrating things about this. I still feel like I’m being told, “Well, we *can* convert it, but it is not your material. I hope that is not what your note was saying.

All talk of copyright aside, while it is frustrating, I can accept that you’ve reached a *technical* brick wall. It seems you ran into the same limitations that I did when trying to convert my data. Because the data was transferred from my Hi-MD recorder, and the original MD is not available, your software prohibits playing on any other system – across the board, regardless of the factual reality that the material was recorded by me and is mine. This is what has many people so disgusted with Sony right now, and we’re glad to see the MD format dying for this very reason.

Still, I held out hope. I still think – as a software designer – that there *must* be some way to convert these, and would like to offer you some more info that could help. If I was trying to bootleg or plagiarize someone else’s copyrighted material, would I really go through all this trouble? This is personal – recordings lost that should not have been – through no fault of my own.

I then proceeded to give specific info about my PC configurations that might help reverse engineer their algorithms. This included motherboard IDs, the Hi-MD serial number. I am still awaiting a response.

December 29, 2009 Update – It’s just after the one year anniversary of this problem – one of the few technical issues I’ve been unable to solve. In the end it may be my white whale, but I was determined to take one last stab at it.

The original machine on which this problem started has been collecting dust in my basement. I’ve been saving it for the day when I had some time to attempt one last recovery of my material. I thought perhaps with the same motherboard, same hard drive, same XP install and SonicStage version I could back-date the computer and recreate the conditions that existed prior to my HD crash. Then perhaps the OMA files I have would be accessible. After another two hours of messing around, still no luck. Whatever “keyring” or OpenMG key that was on my drive before the crash is long gone, and even if it was recoverable, I don’t know what the file name is to even begin a recovery. I bet the NSA doesn’t have encryption this good.

In an effort to make this problem more widely known and get some good hackers working on an OpenMG crack, I have begun posting this problem to several bulletin boards, including the Sony Insider Forum, which has a Minidisc section. So tell your friends. If you have any breakthroughs, let me know.

I am now in the process of packing the MiniDisc away as I will never use it to record ANYTHING ever again, having moved to a much better WAV format on a portable ZOOM recorder.

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