The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is praising a US District Court judge's preliminary approval Friday of a settlement with Sony BMG Music Entertainment over two widely-criticized copy protection programs found on an estimated 15 million music CDs.

The settlement means that consumers can finally get music that will play on their computers without invading their privacy or eroding their security, EFF said.

Consumers reject copy protection

The terms of the settlement vary according to which kind of copy protection software the CD contains. Sony used two versions of copy protection: Extended Copy Protection (XCP), produced by First 4 Internet and two versions of MediaMax.

Security researchers found the applications were difficult to remove, or caused security holes in users' computers or violated accepted user control rights over their own computer. As a result, several class-action lawsuits were filed against Sony in November and were consolidated into a single case in US District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Sony does not agree with all of the claims of the lawsuit, EFF said.

Sony did not have much to say about the settlement: "We are pleased that the court has granted preliminary approval to the proposed settlement," wrote Sony spokesman John McKay.

Free songs for you, headache for Sony

Music lovers who bought CDs with added XCP can exchange the disks for new ones without XCP. Customers are also entitled to download a clean version of that same album in MP3 format, and receive a $7.50 payment plus one free album download. Users can opt out of the cash payment and get three free album downloads, according to details released by EFF.

Those possessing disks with MediaMax 3.0 are eligible to receive a free MP3 download of the same album. The settlement also allows for customers who have CDs with the 5.0 version of that program to receive a free MP3 download of the same album plus an additional free album download.

The terms of the settlement require that users run an uninstaller that removes the copy protection software.

The settlement also mandates Sony to stop manufacturing CDs with any of the three programs and issues updates to fix security problems. Sony began including XCP software on some CDs in January 2005. The company had shipped CDs with the MediaMax software since August 2003, court documents showed.

(Robert McMillan in San Francisco contributed to this report)