It took 10 days to recognize its mistake but SonyBMG finally backtracked on a near disastrous decision to build CDs with a controversial copy-protection technology.
What I still don't understand is why somebody in a position of authority at either Sony or Bertelsmann, the joint owners of SonyBMG, didn't figure this out earlier. Security experts had earlier warned that the technology was vulnerable to exploitation by virus writers.
No matter: The bureaucrats at SonyBMG were willing to risk the firestorm in order to preserve what they viewed as essential copy protection control over their product.
All this brought to mind a similar furor over the 1994 discovery by a Lynchburg College mathematics professor named Thomas Nicely of a bug in Intel's Pentium chip. The vast majority of computer users were unaffected by the so-called FDIV bug. But it could have caused inaccuracies when big banks or other heavy-duty users carried out sophisticated formulas.
Intel's initial response was to ignore Nicely. When word spread, the strategy turned to stonewalling. Before you could say Jack Robinson, Intel had a full-scale PR disaster on its hands. For a company built by engineers and led by engineers, Intel wasn't prepared for the consumer blowback.
Eventually, the company agreed to swap out the affected microprocessors and that defused the issue. It was a painful lesson but Intel learned that perceptions matter: don't argue. The consumer is always right -- even when they're wrong.
You can almost excuse Intel for its slow response. After all, these guys were chip heads. It's hard to cut SonyBMG the same slack. These folks are all about consumer marketing so how do you explain their blind spot? It's one thing to argue about the rights and wrongs of DRM until the cows come home. But once this turned into a PR fiasco, the grownups -- including Sony boss Sir. Howard Stringer -- should have stepped in and put a stop to it.