Microsoft Sues FairUse4WM Developers

In a federal district court in Seattle last Friday, IDG News Service is reporting, Microsoft filed suit against ten "John Does," one of whom goes by the screen handle "viodentia," for allegedly using stolen Microsoft source code as a means to make corrections to a utility called FairUse4WM, whose purpose is to strip Microsoft copy protection from media files.

The suit seeks a permanent injunction against the group, and contends Microsoft has suffered more than $75,000 in damages - a legal milestone.

One of Microsoft's lawyers was quoted this morning as saying that viodentia gained unlawful access to Microsoft source code, as a means for circumventing a Microsoft security patch that rendered FairUse4WM unusable.

Today, a post attributed to viodentia on a public forum where links to FairUse4WM are also posted, said, "FairUse4WM has been my own creation, and has never involved Microsoft source code. I link with Microsoft's static libraries provided with the compiler and various platform SDK files."

Previously, viodentia has contended that, although his source code does contain elements from Microsoft's own SDKs -- which are licensed to developers under, ironically "fair use provisions" -- he and his group have had as much right to do so as other developers. But apparently parts of the suit, IDG reports, claim that the group is using SDK code for purposes other than that which Microsoft allows under its license agreement.

In an interview with AOL's Engadget on Monday, viodentia took full credit for being the principal developer of the product.

"I am the only developer," he said, "although my friends served as early beta testers and sounding boards, and with the initial release I've gotten to know some very helpful people." When asked if there were any personal reasons for wanting to crack Windows DRM, viodentia responded, "My selfish rationale is the challenge in pitting my skills against the industry leader."

What neither Engadget nor anyone else in the press knew on Monday was that Microsoft had sued viodentia. Although at one point in the interview, he appeared to defend himself against the lawsuit's chief allegations, stating that he disapproved of Microsoft "claiming copyright to my program." In perhaps a counter-challenge, he said he looked forward to Microsoft's next round of improvements to its DRM technology.

BetaNews has contacted Microsoft for further comment.

Two weeks ago, security expert Bruce Schneier commented on his popular blog, "If you really want to see Microsoft scramble to patch a hole in its software, don't look to vulnerabilities that impact countless Internet Explorer users or give intruders control of thousands of Windows machines. Just crack Redmond's DRM."

No software vendor likes to issue patches, Schneier argued, because it makes the company look vulnerable. Yet, as he's implied in the past, companies can couch fixes to their ongoing problems as "security patches" in order to compensate for the appearance of vulnerability.

The problem is when Microsoft or some other company, he said, tries to frame a vulnerability in DRM -- a feature which few people will actually claim they want -- as a security breach. "No user is ever going to say: 'Oh no. I can now play the music I bought for my computer in my car. I must install a patch so I can't do that anymore."'

Version 1.3 of FairUse4WM was posted to a server today. In a response to a question from a user regarding a possible error, viodentia stated the cause could involve a feature of Windows Media DRM-encoded files that tries to send tracking information about, for instance, how often the file is listened to, back to a host. He suggests a work-around to disable this callback function.

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