Microsoft Copy Protection Cracked Again
Microsoft Corp. is once again on the defensive against hackers after the launch
of a new program that gives average PC users tools to unlock copy-protected
digital music and movies.
The latest version of the FairUse4M program, which can crack Microsoft's digital
rights management system for Windows Media audio and video files, was published
online late Friday. In the past year, Microsoft plugged holes exploited by two
earlier versions of the program and filed a federal lawsuit against its anonymous
authors. Microsoft dropped the lawsuit after failing to identify them.
The third version of FairUse4M has a simple drag-and-drop interface. PC users
can turn the protected music files they bought online -- either a la carte or
as part of a subscription service like Napster -- and turn them into DRM-free
tunes that can be copied and shared at will, or turned into MP3 files that can
play on any type of digital music player.
"We knew at the start that no digital rights management technology is
going to be impervious to circumvention," said Jonathan Usher, a director
in Microsoft's consumer media technology group, in a phone interview.
Usher said Microsoft employs a full-time team to combat such breaches, and
that the Windows Media DRM system was designed to be quickly modified to shut
down this type of attack.
He did not say how many songs have been stripped of copy protection, or how
long it will take for Microsoft to combat the hack again. But the music industry
is aware of the nature of Microsoft's technology, he said, and added that he
does not expect record labels to lose patience with the process.
The Recording Industry Association of America, a trade group, declined to comment.
While Usher said Microsoft will remain committed to copy protection, attitudes
around the industry are starting to shift.
Apple Inc. has modified its own online store, iTunes, to block similar efforts
to break its FairPlay copy protection scheme. But Apple's chief, Steve Jobs,
started calling for an end to digital music-locking earlier this year.
"There are many smart people in the world, some with a lot of time on
their hands, who love to discover such secrets and publish a way for everyone
to get free (and stolen) music," Jobs wrote in an online essay in February.
"They are often successful in doing just that, so any company trying to
protect content using a DRM must frequently update it with new and harder to
discover secrets. It is a cat-and-mouse game."
Apple's iTunes store started selling DRM-free music from EMI Group PLC's catalog
in May. The same month, Web retailer Amazon.com Inc. said its much-anticipated
digital music store will sell tracks in the unprotected MP3 format.
Josh Bernoff, an industry analyst at Forrester Research, said he expects music
DRM to fade out in the next couple of years as record companies begin to realize
selling unprotected tracks online won't hurt sales. After all, Bernoff said,
the same tracks are already circulating unprotected, copied from CDs and on