By TOM ZELLER Jr.
The global music giant Sony BMG yesterday announced plans to recall millions of CD's by at least 20 artists -- from the crooners Celine Dion and Neil Diamond to the country-rock act Van Zant -- because they contain copy restriction software that poses risks to the computers of consumers.
The move, more commonly associated with collapsing baby strollers, exploding batteries, or cars with faulty brakes, is expected to cost the company tens of millions of dollars. Sony BMG said that all CD's containing the software would be removed from retail outlets and that exchanges would be offered to consumers who had bought any of them.
A toll-free number and e-mail message inquiry system will also be set up on the Sony BMG Web site, sonybmg.com.
"We deeply regret any inconvenience this may cause our customers," the company said in a letter that it said it would post on its Web site, "and are committed to making this situation right." Neither representatives of Sony BMG nor the British company First 4 Internet, which developed the copy protection software, would comment further.
Sony BMG estimated last week that about five million discs -- some 49 different titles -- had been shipped with the problematic software, and about two million had been sold.
Market research from 2004 has shown that about 30 percent of consumers report obtaining music through the copying and sharing of tracks among friends from legitimately purchased CD's. But the fallout from the aggressive copy protection effort has raised serious questions about how far companies should be permitted to go in seeking to prevent digital piracy.
The recall and exchange program, which was first reported by USA Today, comes two weeks after news began to spread on the Internet that certain Sony BMG CD's contained software designed to limit users to making only three copies. The software also, however, altered the deepest levels of a computer's systems and created vulnerabilities that Internet virus writers could exploit.
Since then, computer researchers have identified other problems with the software, as well as with the software patch and uninstaller programs that the company issued to address the vulnerabilities.