Sony backtracks from anti-Napster spiel

Our man was quoted out of context, company claims

Sony appears to be distancing itself from anti-Napster comments made by one of its senior US executives last week.

Sony Pictures Entertainment staffer Steve Heckler told attendees of the Americas Conference on Information Systems 2000 that his company would develop technology to block Napster at all levels, if the Recording Industry Association of America's lawsuit against the MP3 sharing software developer fails.

Heckler made his comments informally after his keynote speech, and his words were subsequently reported by US student-oriented Web newssite U-Wire.

However, Sony Music Entertainment, which operates alongside but independently of Sony Pictures, is now apparently claiming Heckler's words were taken out of context and the U-Wire story was wrong.

Heckler's comments provoked outrage among computer users, many of whom see his claim that Sony might develop technology to "firewall Napster at source - we will block it at your cable company, we will block it at your phone company, we will block it at your [ISP]. We will firewall it at your PC" as an invasion of their privacy.

Register reader Chris Adams was sufficiently concerned to ask Sony what the heck was going on.

It replied: "Steve Heckler, a Sony Pictures Information Systems employee, was invited to speak at an education conference on computer technology.

"Nowhere in his prepared remarks did he discuss Napster. In an informal conversation after his prepared remarks, he was quoted by a student newspaper as allegedly making certain statements regarding Napster. The story that appeared as a result is totally inaccurate.

"Furthermore, the quotes attributed to Mr. Heckler have been taken out of context and do not represent the opinions or strategies of Sony Pictures, Sony Music or any other Sony Company."

In other words, Heckler was speaking out of turn, and didn't make clear that his comments were his own, and not necessarily those of his employer - the standard get-out staffers use to avoid getting fired if they say something controversial. Of course, Heckler may well have said just that, and U-Wire failed to note it, but we suspect the Sony guy was simply being a little injudicious in his answers to attendees questions.

It may not be Sony policy to develop Napster-blocking software, but Heckler's comment does suggest that the company is - in only informally - looking at contingencies if the RIAA case goes against the music industry. Sony's statement doesn't claim U-Wire's Heckler quotations are incorrect, merely out of context, which isn't the same thing at all. ®

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