Category Archives: Piracy

Adventures With Malware

I’ve been testing running Windows as a smart consumer for the last couple of years. Having bailed on attempts to run Linux without becoming a programmer; and having very little inclination to become a programmer just to run a computer as a user (although that mindset is slowly, ponderously, altering) I decided to just see if I can make Windows work in the limited fashion I’ve been using it of late.

Rather than installing 15 different programs to sniff all my information exchanges from the various networks I utilize as I have seen others do in the past, I decided that I would rely on the native scanners and firewalls that come with Windows now.

Confession time.  I don’t actually run Windows 8, 8.1 or whatever they’re calling the new Windows these days. Microsoft, cleverly figuring out that consumers skip every other release of their OS’s, have skipped calling their new 0S Windows 9 even though that should be the number on the release, and are calling it Windows 10.  Now, I haven’t figured out what version of Windows that Microsoft will deem LTS (long term support) next, so I’m not spending any of my limited funds on an OS that they put out simply to smother some fire that they inadvertently started.

I run what was on the system when it was sold to me (although I’m in the process of converting the laptop to Linux) and that version is Windows 7. I liked XP, stuck with it for as long as I could. XP was the last version of the OS that Microsoft deemed LTS, as was Windows 2000 before that.  Windows 7 has been a nice stable platform for several years, so I’ve stuck with it.

Starting in Windows 7 there were native malware and virus detectors.  If this wasn’t the first time, then it was definitely the first time I noticed them or was willing to rely on them.  Virus scanners seem to be in bed with malware writers of late; witness McAfee being offered on sites that are clearly on the fringe of respectability, when McAfee once upon a time was a legitimate virus scanner that I couldn’t live without.  Now if you rely on them or a Norton product, you’d be better off not finding the internet, if either of them actually let you on it.  So relying on a native Windows application that offered to screen malware and viruses seems as legitimate as actually paying someone else to keep your system virus free these days.

Realizing I was giving up ever visiting a porn site, or sharing a music file, video or anything more sophisticated than email, I set to work.  The native program in Windows was/is called Microsoft Security Essentials, and for the last two years, that has been the only program that I’ve run on this system that does anything related to malware screening or virus scanning.

When I go anywhere on the internet, I use a third party application to do it.  I never allow Windows to do anything aside from run programs which are native to this computer. This is a habit formed since I first started using Windows back in the 3.11 days.  Internet Exploder, er Explorer, has always been the most utilized vector for spreading malware, so I never use it on a website that I don’t trust completely.  Trust like the vault at my bank (and I don’t bank) So I use Firefox or Chrome, or whatever non-native browser that looks promising today, to go to websites.

Having been an MMO player for the last 5 years, I haven’t had a lot of use for porn or music anyway. MMO’s (Massive Multiplayer Online games) are notorious for sucking up all your free time.  The most challenging vector to manage, when dealing with online gaming, is how you get your addons updated. This is because every game has some cheat or other that you have to add to it in order to make it easy enough to complain about in online forums.  This process required a bit of legwork and investigation each time I changed addons or games.  There are addon managers that aren’t too shady, so if you are careful about what you click, read everything and check every toggle before you agree, you can generally lease your entire life to online games and not worry about anyone else stealing it.

Lately I’ve noticed that I’m beginning to have trouble reading.  This is the biggest challenge I face, being a compulsive reader.  Every now and then the eyes fail to track properly, the mind wanders and I miss a paragraph of text, forcing me to curse loudly, backtrack and start over.  Consequently I’ve taken to downloading a lot of content from Audible and various streaming media sites, taking care to make sure that the programs I’m using are pretty solid.

Most audio is only available if you buy it in advance. This is a battle I’ve been fighting since the days of MP3.com and corporate music’s foolish belief that they could stand in the way of file sharing.  To this day I strip audio that has restrictions on it, if I have a need to move it from some system that is recognized to one that is not.  Fortunately for Audible and my limited non-MMO free time, most of the systems I fiddle with these days are recognized by Audible or have Audible apps on them.  Consequently their heads-entirely-up-their-asses DRM remains on many of the latest works that I’ve purchased from them.  I don’t know why they still keep DRM on their files, Amazon has offered native unprotected MP3’s for years, which is why Amazon is about the only place I will buy music (rumor has it that iTunes now has unprotected MP3’s as well.  Too late Apple!) and Amazon now owns Audible.

But they do and I roll my eyes and live with the frustration.

Still, it presents an obstacle to sharing files with family members once you’ve purchased them.  Technically you can share them, according to Audible.  But you have to share them on systems that are recognized, and you have to authorize the hardware with the software, hold your mouth the right way, sacrifice your newborn and leave a pint of blood.  Just a bit of a hassle.

Consequently I have resisted buying audible content that I actually have credits for, if I know I’m going to want to share that content with family members later.  That resistance has now officially ended my Microsoft only malware testing period.

The Wife expressed an interest in a particular work recently. Having just given a pint of blood last week trying to share an Audible file, I went out and found an unprotected copy of the work she wanted, rather than try that again. I did notice some odd behavior in the dialogs, but that reading problem I mentioned caused me to miss exactly what the prompts said.

Hilarity ensued, if hilarity involves 30 plus hours of digging malware out by the roots.  Malware writers are a humorous bunch. They piggy-backed a lovely bit of work in on my foolishness.  Calls itself Unideal. But it’s not just Unideal. It’s also Youtubeadblocker and a few other names aside.  Installed itself as a false virus scanner under yet another name. Runs banner ads across websites sponsored by Robin Hood. Specifically places ads in areas that Ad Blocker takes ads out of.

What is the moral of this story?  I don’t think there is one.  File sharing was never a crime for me, because the things I share I either end up paying for anyway, or never would have paid for in the first place because it wasn’t something I wanted after listening to it once.  The one time I’ve been caught torrenting (by HBO) was the time I was a paid subscriber (won’t be doing that again) who couldn’t actually watch the programs I was paying for due to faulty transmission by my cable provider. If you enjoy HBOGO now, you should write me a thank you letter. That service exists because of people like me.

DRM-free label
defective by design

Were it not for DRM on Audible books, I would have simply used credits that I have on my Audible account to purchase the work my wife was interested in directly. But because of suspicion and doubt, the nagging insistence that if payment is not secured in advance no payment will be made, you must step outside of the protected boundaries of commerce and make back-alley deals with less than desirable types.

Were it not for the backwards nature of copyrighted works, and the DMCA that protects them, it would be possible to take material that the copyright owner has abandoned on a previous format, update it to current formats and be able to charge for the time and effort spent transcribing the material (a service which does have value) without opening oneself up to punishing fines for daring to think that abandoned works deserve to be preserved.

Perhaps there is a lesson here about keeping your software and hardware up to date, but as a disabled person living on a fixed income, it’s a bit much to ask me to purchase new hardware and software every few years just so I can keep current.  I have a test license for Windows 10 which has been made available to me, and in the next few days I may be testing that software after I get my second drive running a version of Linux I can count on.

Redefining Piracy

Huffington Post Tech artcile

I know I’m wasting my time here, because the entertainment giants have all stacked the decks in their favor and defined piracy as any activity that they don’t approve of, but just how many of these legally defined ‘pirates’ profit from their activity? Would have the money to pay for the entertainment that they share for free? How many people will have their abilities to function in today’s world hampered by these bumbling attempts to stop something that wouldn’t exist were the content simply made available when desired at a reasonable price?

Aren’t these media conglomerates simply shooting themselves in the foot, alienating potential future customers with harassment? The music industry has been forced to the table, and the low per-song price through iTunes and Amazon for a single song is the result of their capitulation to the new information reality we live in. The instantaneous access to information that the average user demands. The savviest of new bands now offer their music directly from their websites, and even offer free songs to draw people in. They do this because they know that their audiences want more access, more music, and they want it right now, not after they visit a store and make a purchase. Get your music from the source, cut out the middleman.

What piracy remains (musically) is the corporate properties that haven’t learned to play ball, want to charge more, won’t put their libraries online. Study after study has shown this; that if the content is available, people will pay for it. I balk at being forced to buy music libraries a third time (once on tape, once on disc, and again on unprotected mp3) I will still go to torrent sites to pick up copies of music that I’ve already paid for. However, with the emergence of remastered music that is of superior quality to CD, even I am admitting that I may have to buy the music again, for a fourth time.

No, the yelling and screaming about PIRACY! comes from the MPAA and corporate television entities these days. They just haven’t figured out that the game has changed yet. When the average movie goer starts boycotting corporate films and embraces independent content (something that is already beginning to occur) maybe they’ll figure it out.

If I download a song, never listen to it, and then delete it, have I profited? If I download a movie or television show, if I pay for a subscriber service, can’t access it, and then download a torrent copy of the exact show I already paid for, but then don’t watch or listen to any of it, have I stolen anything?The corporate property owners say you have, and you are a pirate. I’d simply like them to prove how the temporary existence of a file on a computer system represents anything other than a cost, not a benefit. If I can’t be shown to have even watched or listened to the files in question, but the files belong to the corporation that objects to their existence, I’d say they owe me storage fees for holding the information for me. But I’ll happily wave the fees and simply delete the files. Let’s see how many checks show up in the meantime.

Facebook status and comments added, edited and backdated to the blog. Summary paragraph added.

Wal-mart begins selling DRM-free MP3s

The DRM dominos continue to fall with Wal-mart joining the DRM-free for all.

Engadget, Wal-mart begins selling DRM-free MP3s

From the Reuters story on the subject (also found on Yahoo):

Wal-Mart’s move into DRM-free downloads comes as major record labels debate whether dropping DRM will hurt digital music sales or encourage piracy. Copy protection software prevents unauthorized copying of a digital song bought from an online store, but it also limits where an owner can listen to it.

Apple founder and Chief Executive Steve Jobs has called on the music industry to allow online retailers like iTunes to sell songs without restrictions to give the digital music sector a boost and to give consumers what they want.

Universal, the world’s largest music label, said earlier this month that it was testing the sale of songs without copy-protection software and said vendors including Google Inc., Wal-Mart and Amazon.com Inc., would participate in the DRM-free trial.

EMI has also agreed to drop DRM, but the Sony BMG Music Entertainment venture of Sony Corp and Bertelsmann AG and Warner Music Group Corp are still testing the impact of such a move on digital music sales.


Mea culpa review 2017. Seriously, old self? What the heavenly fuck were you thinking? I need something for the blog just pretend you wrote the opening line? Listen you lazy old bastard, write or don’t post. That’s it, end of discussion. 

Vista Hits Store Shelves. So What?

Stumbled across this article over at digg.com, discussing the departure of Windows chief Jim Allchin, and breathless praise concerning the latest version of Windows to hit store shelves, Vista.

My response? Goodbye Jim Allchin.

The rest of the article is a puff piece designed to spin the Vista delay in the correct direction, rather than discussing the real reasons for same. Reasons like the failure of Vista’s predecessor, Longhorn; failed because nobody wanted the invasive security measures that were touted as one of Longhorn’s strengths (the chipset it was to utilize was shelved, if I remember correctly, over the same issues) It’s taken nearly five years to design and build a version of Windows that Microsoft thought people would go for, that also included enough of the DRM and anti-piracy measures (that corporate America is inexplicably in love with) to satisfy Microsoft’s business partners and it’s legal department.

Good luck with it. It’ll never see the inside of any of my systems, at least not in it’s unadulterated form. I’m not the only one who feels this way. Apparently the opinion is pretty widespread, and not exactly earth shattering.

Of what use is an operating system that disables programs and media that it can’t verify are legally purchased (can’t verify as opposed to aren’t legally purchased, an important distinction) one that is hostile to other DRM schemes, schemes that are just as valid as it’s own (the issue with i-Tunes has been well documented, albeit patched) An operating system that requires every user to create a Windows Live account in order to validate the installation; a completely pointless requirement, except that MicroShaft is deluding itself into believing that it can compete with Yahoo and Google, and so think that forcing new users to register in the system will lead them to actually use the system.

Time to get serious about Linux.

DRM: One More Time

I’ve been arguing DRM issues with several people of late. It’s a hot button for me. Several people have taken me to task for daring to disregard an agreement; I maintain it isn’t an agreement if I’m not given negotiating power, it’s a concession. The average user concedes that he is subject to corporate legal boilerplate if caught with his hands in the cookie jar. Case in point, iTunes has no legal basis on which to claim that I cannot modify my own files in any manner I deem necessary, but it’s in their contracts anyway. I can’t negotiate their unenforcible clauses out of the contract, so they remain in place. They’ll just have to catch me, I guess.


* Stealing Fair Use, Selling It Back to you

“Apparently, Hollywood believes that you should have to re-
purchase all your DVD movies a second time if you want to
watch them on your iPod.” That’s what we said last week,
commenting on the Paramount v. Load-N-Go lawsuit, in which
Hollywood studios claimed that it is illegal to rip a DVD to
put on a personal video player (PVP), even if you own the
DVD.

Well, this week the other shoe dropped. According to an
article in the New York Times:

“Customers who buy the physical DVD of Warner Brothers’
‘Superman Returns’ in a Wal-Mart store will have the option
of downloading a digital copy of the film to their portable
devices for $1.97, personal computer for $2.97, or both for
$3.97.”

So you buy the DVD, and if you want a copy on your PVP or
computer, you have to pay a second time. Despite the fact
that you bought the DVD, and you have a DVD drive in your
computer that is perfectly capable of making a personal-use
copy. Imagine if the record labels offered you this “deal”
for every CD you bought — pay us a few dollars extra, and
you can have a copy for your iPod. And a few more dollars,
if you want a copy on your computer, too! As LA Times
reporter Jon Healey puts it in his blog: “So from the
perspective of the studios and federal officials, consumers
have to pay for the privilege of doing the sorts of things
with DVDs that they’re accustomed to doing with CDs (and LPs
and cassettes).”

This latest bitter fruit from Hollywood is brought to you by
the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which treats
“protected” content (like the encrypted video on DVDs),
differently from “unprotected” content (like every audio and
video media format introduced before 1996). Thanks to the
DMCA, Hollywood believes fair use personal-use copies simply
do not exist when it comes to DVDs.

Let’s hope Congressman Rick Boucher is listening and will
reintroduce his DMCA reform bill first thing next year.

For this post and related links:

http://www.breitbart.com/news/2006/10/13/309-10132006.html

To: Assignment Desk, Daybook Editor

Contact: Rory Davenport of Qorvis Communications, 202-448-9292 or rdavenport@qorvis.com

News Advisory:

What: Press conference to address issues related to online music distribution and erroneous piracy characterization by U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab.

When: October 17, 2006

4:30pm (London)

11:30am (Washington, New York)

8:30am (Los Angeles)

Where: Online

Special access will be granted to a reserved section on http://www.allofmp3.com

To participate, journalists must send an email to Rory Davenport at rdavenport@qorvis.com. Reporters will receive a confirmation email with the link to the press conference location. Only pre-registered reporters will have access to the press conference. Registration will close on Monday, October 16 at 8 pm (Washington time).

Subject: Mediaservices will address issues related to a business dispute with the major record labels over the online music site AllofMP3.com.

Universal (V), WarnerMusic (WMG), SonyBMG (SNE) and EMI (EMI.L) have repeatedly mischaracterized the company as part of a campaign to secure a more favorable royalty structure. Those companies and their agents, the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) and Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) have enlisted the British and U.S. governments as part of their business campaign.

Mediaservices is convinced that its business model is legitimate and that it maximizes demand for music and spurs consumers to buy more music. The company believes that everyone wins, record labels, artists and distribution companies when the market is broader and deeper. Relying on a handful of artists for the majority of sales is an outdated business model and recipe for disaster for the music industry.

Note: A transcript of the press conference will not be available.

Press

Contact: Rory Davenport, Qorvis Communications, 202-448-9292 or rdavenport@qorvis.com

http://www.usnewswire.com/

DRM: Who’s Rights are They?

The announcement from Universal last week brought up the subject of DRM, a sore spot for me and most of the people who listen to online music. But you would think that it had been smooth sailing for all these online years, if you believed the arguments that I’ve seen over the last week.

Napster and it’s overseas descendants aren’t and never were a problem, MP3.com wasn’t virtually hounded off the ‘net for daring to exercise fair use, DRM is a completely logical exercise of the rights holders over copyrighted material, which presents no problems to the end users who purchase the material.

…And if you believe that, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn that I want to sell you.

First off, let’s get a few definitions straight. The term piracy, as it is used in software circles these days, is a completely unworkable definition. Piracy involves profiting through theft, not copying files. While it can be argued that the end user ‘profits’ from copying files that he has not paid for, that sort of profiting is in a whole different league from the person who sells CDs and DVDs (and even the computer files themselves) that he’s made without license from the copyright holder. However, there is no distinction between the two in the eyes of Microsoft (and the other corporate software vendors) the RIAA and the MPAA; a completely ridiculous proposition on the face of it.

Then there is the term contract, in which the software industry claims their EULAs and online contracts are no different than a printed, signed and witnessed contract of a truly legal nature. However, if you trotted out the verbiage contained in the average EULA, I doubt you’d find many people willing to commit to the agreement, since the agreement invariably holds the software company innocent of any possible wrongdoing, while setting up a legal fence around the user so as to tightly constrain what uses the material can be put to.

Here is a piece of timely advice; never sign a contract that has been written by an attorney other than one in your employ without first having an attorney who is in your employ look it over. Contracts are always negotiable by both parties if they are to be considered valid. When you sign your name to a contract you agree to the terms, thereby waiving your right to negotiate terms in advance. A EULA does not allow for physical signatures and so consequently are not really contracts at all.

Additionally any contract that you have to accept without negotiation is a contract that no one should hold themselves constrained by, since they had no say in what the exact contents of the contract would be.

Now when it comes to EULA’s I have to ask; Do you support the dishonest business practice of attempting to hold a customer to a contract that isn’t presented until after the transaction has taken place, or are you an honest businessman who presents the contract before any other business occurs? Anyone who thinks that it is commonplace and acceptable to withhold conditions of a sale until after the transaction has taken place is by definition a dishonest businessman. Honesty requires full disclosure before the sale. Restrictions that are revealed after the sale is finalized are not enforceable, as they are generally held to be outside of current law, and are a violation of the standard of full disclosure. In a nutshell, it is a dishonest and/or fraudulent business practice to withhold this type of information.

With the above as the generally understood standard of doing business, that contracts which I have not explicitly agreed to in writing are not binding, and that contracts that are not revealed until after the sale is finalized are not enforceable…

…Should I be faulted for holding the opinion that “All sales are final. The files are mine. Anything they have to say about my treatment of my files after that point is a claim. There is no agreement, other than cash for music files. There was no other legal contract presented.” and stripping the DRM from files that I had paid for and wished to listen to on a device of my choosing?

Apparently I am to be faulted. At least in the eyes of the people who plan on making money off of the legally clueless out there.

Fair use allows the user to make copies of copyrighted material for his own use. My own use requires that I strip the DRM from music files sold on most popular websites. If the websites attempted to enforce the contract terms, they would only alienate their customer base; ergo, it is nothing more than a paper tiger, never to be enforced except to remove individual user accounts.

…And if I can’t actually make the files usable, I don’t know why I would need an account in the first place.

The last definition that needs clarification: DRM, Digital Rights Management. The corporations that own the content have rights (which DRM manages) but you the user don’t. You have privileges that they can take away if they please. Welcome to the digital millennium.

My experience with the difficulty of using iTunes (and other DRM restricted services) has convinced me that DRM regimes are soon to be a thing of the past. It’s also convinced me that I will spend money on sites that don’t add DRM to the files. Sites like Sound Click for example. I don’t need to go to full out piracy sites (I find real pirates and their practices quite distasteful) I have no problem going down to the used CD store and getting the music I’m looking for at less than the dollar a song most sites are charging. I might download songs from Universal’s announced site, but only if I can remove the DRM.

Which brings us to the crux of the problem. The only way to make DRM enforceable is to appoint an ultimate Sys-Admin, a company that has the power to open back doors on all the computers currently in operation, and snoop through the files to make sure that no one is using files that they haven’t paid for. A job that Microsoft desperately wants to be given, as they quite eagerly pointed out when they announced the rollout of Longhorn (now Vista) two or three years ago. A big brother situation that I shudder to contemplate.

Otherwise DRM is an unworkable solution in the long term. As more content becomes available on the ‘net, more and more of it will appear shortly after it’s initial release with DRM, sans it’s protective wrapper, ready to be copied by anybody who doesn’t have an aversion to dealing with pirates.

Might as well just come up with a different solution now, save us all the hassle.