Sony may be investigated by Italian police over its controversial copy protection software.

An Italian digital rights organisation has taken the first step toward possible criminal charges over the XCP software which, it was recently discovered, cloaks itself on users' computers and communicates with Sony servers over the Internet.

The group, calling itself the ALCEI-EFI (Association for Freedom in Electronic Interactive Communications - Electronic Frontiers Italy), filed a complaint about Sony's software with the head of Italy's cyber-crime investigation unit, Colonel Umberto Rapetto of the Guardia di Finanza.

The complaint alleges that XCP violates a number of Italy's computer security laws by causing damage to users' systems and by acting in the same way as malicious software, according to Andrea Monti, chair of the ALCEI-EFI. "What Sony did qualifies as a criminal offense under Italian law," he said.

Should police determine that a crime has been committed, prosecutors will be required to begin criminal proceedings against Sony, Monti said.

XCP is used on about 20 of the company's music titles and prohibits Windows users from making more than three copies of any XCP-protected CD. It has been widely criticised since it was revealed the software uses many of the same techniques as spyware and computer viruses to disguise its existence. XCP's developer, a UK company called First 4 Internet said the techniques were necessary in order to prevent illegal copiers from circumventing the digital rights management (DRM) software, but critics say First 4 has gone too far and that the product may be a security risk.

And confirming its new status, Computer Associates yesterday reclassified Sony's software as spyware and will begin searching for and removing XCP with its anti-spyware software.

Even a software patch released by Sony last week to decloak the hidden digital rights management software counts as spyware.