March 24, 2018

SonyBMG (Accidentally?) Giving Away MP3 of New Billy Joel Song

Billy Joel’s new song, “All My Life” is being released in stages. Presently it’s available for free streaming from People Magazine’s site. Later in the month it will be available for purchase only at the iTunes Music store. After that it will be released in other online stores. Or at least that was the plan of the record company, SonyBMG.

As an anonymous reader points out, although the People site looks like it is streaming the song, thus giving users no easy way to copy it, what the site actually does is download a high-quality MP3 file (unencumbered by any copy protection) to the user’s computer, and then play the MP3. The MP3 is dropped in a place where ordinary users won’t stumble across it, but if you know where to look you’ll find it sitting on your computer after you listen to the “stream”. In other words, SonyBMG is, perhaps inadvertently, giving away high-quality MP3s of “All My Life.”

(Technical details, for those who care: The “streaming” control is actually a Flash object that downloads and plays an MP3. It uses the normal browser mechanism to do the downloading, which means that the browser (Firefox, at least) automatically squirrels away a copy of the downloaded file. Result: the MP3 file is left on the user’s system.)

The obvious question is why SonyBMG did this. It could be (1) a mistake by an engineer who didn’t realize that the canned music-player control he was using operated by downloading an MP3. Or perhaps (2) the engineer didn’t realize that the browser would keep a copy of the file. Or it could be that (3) SonyBMG knew about all of this and figured users wouldn’t notice, or (4) they figured that any user who could find the MP3 could capture an ordinary stream anyway. For what it’s worth, my money is on (2).


  1. Tomer Chachamu says:

    Every song on Pandora (including Big Label music) is downloaded in MP3 format. There are programs for taking the files and renaming them, etc.

  2. This is a lot more common than you may think. A lot of ring-tone download sites work this way as well as video sites.

    If you have a Mac, using Safari click WIndow->Activity to list all files being downloaded, double click a file to open it in a new window. It’s possible to download videos from YouTube and all sorts of places with this method as well as music videos from band’s websites and such like.

  3. Or (5) the engineer knew what he was doing, but management didn’t. My money’s on (5).

  4. Just for interest I looked for this on my windows machine, and couldn’t find it. A search for *.mp3 didn’t find it on my machine. Looking in the IE Temp internet files directory didn’t find anything (of that size, file extension).

    Tried with IE and Firefox. So either I am missing something, or it is a little more difficult to find that in the story above.

    Can anyone elaborate on where it is supposed to be (just academic curiosity!).

  5. Using Opera, you’ll find the mp3 in the directory
    C:Documents and Settings”your username”Application DataOperaOperaprofilecache4
    A nice mp3 encoded in 256kbps almost 10MB in size.

  6. I can’t find it using Firefox – but I believe that Firefox doesn’t store temporary internet files under their individual names.

    But it is there in IE7 and with the .mp3 extension.

    For those who are having trouble finding the temporary file on their computer, why not just download it from the url:

  7. Anonymous says:

    Firefox drops the file under C:Documents and SettingsLocal SettingsApplication DataMozillaFirefoxProfiles.defaultCache

    Sort the cache entries by date and rename the 9.963kB file to mp3.


  8. it doesn’t appear that Safari makes or keeps a copy of the file, but Opera and Firefox do.

    (i used

    sudo find / -size 10201323c -ls 2>/dev/null

    to test this.)

    Mac OS X ver. 10.4.8
    Safari ver. 2.0.4 (419.3)
    Firefox ver.
    Opera ver. 9.10 (3588)

  9. Another Kevin says:

    The cynic in me thinks of a sixth possibility – that the downloaded file is marked in some way – perhaps it’s a different performance – so that Sony will be able to tell that it was downloaded. Its presence on a user’s computer is then prima facie evidence of copyright infringement – and would be hard for the user to rebut – particularly if Sony gets an ISP’s records showing that this site was visited prior to the download. I think it’s a business opportunity for the RIAA litigation machine.

    (This post only about two-thirds facetious.)

  10. Another Kevin says:

    An afterthought: I almost hope they sue you for contributory infringement for posting this. You (and your university) would leave them bloody, possibly making good precedents in the process. (No, I really wouldn’t wish that on anyone – but respect your ability to stand up to the bullies.)

  11. I don’t think that there is copyright infringement if you have a copy on your computer.

    If you go to that page and press the “play” button, you have to have a copy on your computer in order to be able to play it – because it is not streaming at all, but downloading and then playing. So downloading and saving the unprotected file to the client is how the “player” works.

    If you subsequently return to the site and play the song again, your computer will re-play the copy on your own computer (if it is still there).

    I think that the history of DRM shows that creating DRM systems is entrusted to people who do not know what they are doing, and people who do know what they are doing are threatened with legal action to shut them up.

    As a matter of interest, what happens with a web page like this if the client does not have a program capable of playing mp3’s. Is the user prompted by the operating system to download and save?

  12. As I know mp3 doesn’t have any kind of “marked drm tag”, however you can recode it to wav and re-recode it to mp3 again -using lame for example- without losing quality and erasing any chance of a “weird drm tag”.

    Surprisingly the file mp3 is tagged as “is not copyrighted”.
    I have download the file from the direct link in this comments page.

  13. My first reaction is that the Piano Man is sounding uncomfortably like Tony Bennett these days . . .

  14. As regards: “Surprisingly the file mp3 is tagged as “is not copyrighted”.
    I have download the file from the direct link in this comments page. ”

    Maybe Sony are trialing a new business model – give the file away free and unprotected first, and then see if it sells well later as a drm encumbered offering on iTunes.

  15. If they wanted to give away MP3’s then why is it such a big secret? I have seen these “security holes” (so to speak) on many indie sites, but they never intended to give anything away.

    I cannot belive the RIAA and SonyBMG have had a sudden change of heart, and if they did, I ask “why the big secret”? Why make it so hard for average users?

    Maybe it’s just me, but this simply sounds like a fuck up on their part and for some “strange” reason you all are patting the RIAA on the back!

    Um..let us NOT forget the Rootkit!

  16. When I said it might be a new business model, then that wasn’t meant to be serious.

    Maybe the web site author(s) of that page have next to no coding ability and/or understanding of this sort of issue, and rely on the use of development environment programs like Dreamweaver, together with downloads of giveaway web programs and sub-routines off the net.

    I imagine that the publicity this has had here will have reached Sony by Monday. It remains to be seen whether they act with the same alacrity as did Diebold when alerted that images on their site contained enough information to make fake keys for their machines.

  17. Well, they are getting the refer tag from here, so they have seen this post by now, no change as of yet.

  18. …I think it’s called Guerrilla Marketing. Get everybody to talk about you by spending pennies. The hifi piece would be out on the net anyway 24 hours after the CD comes out. So why not get some free press on the side…

  19. Well, they removed the MP3, and the player isn’t working anymore
    It actually was downloading from
    Liveheaders told me so…
    (oh, and downloading is legal, here, in The Netherlands).
    I think they didn’t realise Flash saves a copy (I didn’t).

  20. Im with the guy that sed option (5) — How did u get da URL on the sit?

  21. Usually those temporary files are locked and you can not open them while they are open by Internet Explorer or other. More over they are created with the flag “delete when handle closed”, so as soon as IE closes the file is deleted.

    There are software that allow to copy locked files.

  22. hey ME — how did you get the file URL?

  23. This is not at all uncommon, as we have found out on Our users dig out free and legal sources of virtually everything, including evergreens like the Beatles, AC DC, Led Zeppelin.

  24. it’s not that hard, run firefox in a proxy, flash will use that proxy, see all the URLs it attempts to get, mp3 will be staring right back at you.

    btw, put the file back and it’s wgetable

  25. <test>

  26. <dontuseforinfringement>
    In Firefox, try the pseudo-URL “about:cache” for info about your cache, including where it resides locally.

    Click the provided link — “about:cache?device=disk” — for a list of all disk cached items, by their original URL. You can easily ctrl-f find entries that are from People or end in “.mp3”.

    Clicking the MP3 URL in question — “about:cache-entry?client=HTTP&sb=1&key=” — gives more info, including the exact local file path, but also a direct link to the original source, for normal click or right-click handling.

    (The <dontuseforinfringement> tags in this posting may constitute a technological anti-circumvention measure. Consult your lawyer or pastor before doing anything you might regret!)

  27. Could a few people who downloaded the mp3 file post the md5 or sha checksum? Equal hashes would show the files weren’t individually watermarked.

  28. Don’t attribute to criminal conspiracy what can be adequately explained by stupidity. Never mind that Sony is looking to corner the market on both…

  29. Whoops! I guess they should have run that by IT one more time, better luck next time!