Free music downloads and cash refunds could soon be offered to owners of Sony BMG CDs loaded with controversial anti-piracy software.
Mark Russinovich with the CD that kicked off the row
The offers are part of a proposed settlement of lawsuits against Sony BMG over the use of software aimed at thwarting illegal copying of CDs.
The programs used left consumers open to attack from viruses that hijacked the music maker's software.
The proposed deal also forces Sony to stop using the controversial software.
The row about the software Sony BMG used to try to stop illegal copying of its CDs blew up in October when programmer Mark Russinovich noticed his PC had been infected by a type of malicious program known as a "rootkit".
He found that the rootkit came from XCP anti-piracy software on a Sony BMG CD. It also left his machine open to exploit by malicious programmers and computer virus writers.
He publicised his findings and it soon turned into a PR disaster for the music maker. Sony eventually recalled all CDs using XCP and offered refunds to consumers.
Other researchers found separately that the MediaMax anti-piracy software used by Sony BMG on other CDs also left consumers' PCs open to a variety of security problems.
In all, millions of CDs are thought to have been sold that use the controversial programs. Sony BMG has released a list of the 52 discs that use XCP and the 34 that used MediaMax. All the affected CDs were only sold in North America.
The publicity about the anti-piracy programs prompted class action lawsuits from aggrieved consumers.
Consumers will be able to download from the Apple iTunes store
Now a month of negotiation between Sony BMG and lawyers representing all the consumers that filed cases has resulted in the proposed settlement. The document outlining the deal is due to be approved by a US judge on 6 January, but few expect it to be rejected.
Owners of a CD with the XCP program are being offered a replacement disc free of anti-piracy software, $7.50 in cash and a free download of a Sony BMG album from an online music service. Consumers can forgo the cash and get three album downloads instead.
Those owning CDs that use MediaMax only get downloads rather than cash.
Significantly the deal also includes Apple's iTunes music store as previously Sony offered little help for consumers that wanted to put copy-protected music in their iPod.
Consumers that bought CDs using early versions of the anti-piracy programs only get replacement discs.
The deal also means Sony BMG must abandon use of the XCP and MediaMax programs and provide tools that help people clean the software from their PCs.
It must also fix any new vulnerabilities the programs are found to create or which are created by any anti-piracy system it adopts in the future.
Sony BMG must also change the way that it tries to protect music on discs and in the future must clearly label and test its anti-piracy systems. The methods it wants to adopt must also be independently audited.
The music maker offered no comment on the news of the settlement.
The deal does not end all the legal action started by the controversy. A lawsuit started by Texas attorney general Greg Abbott which charges Sony BMG with violating the state's spyware and anti-deceptive practices law is still outstanding.