Engadget reports (via link from TGDaily) that a utility called FairUse4WM posted on Doom9.org has completely broken Windows Media DRM (Digital Rights Management) copy protection scheme and this spells big trouble for Napster and Yahoo unlimited music subscription services. The music subscription services allow you to download all the music you want for a relatively small monthly fixed fee but the catch is that as soon as you stop paying the subscriptions, the music files you've downloaded stop working because of Windows Media DRM.
But this new utility posted to Doom9.org completely threatens that model because anyone can sign up for a month's subscription and download a ton of music and remove the Windows Media DRM protection. Existing members who don't necessarily want to download more music but want to continue listening to their existing subscription library will also be able to strip the DRM protection and stop their subscriptions. A programmatic hack like this is the worst case scenario for any copy protection mechanismThis could have disastrous consequences on Napster and Yahoo subscription music services and it casts doubt on Microsoft's ability to provide DRM to the music companies.
It's never been a secret that DRM can always be removed through various means. At worst, you could use the analog approach and capture the audio at the sound driver level and still get a perfect WAV file. This method is time consuming because 1000 minutes of music would take 1000 minutes to rip. Furthermore, you would still need to re-encode the music to some kind of compressed format like MP3 or back to a more modern WMA codec without the DRM and both compression schemes would cause some loss in quality. But this new FairUse4WM hack has neither drawback because it is lossless in quality and operates almost instantaneously. A programmatic hack like this is the worst case scenario for any copy protection mechanism because it's almost as if the DRM didn't exist in the first place.
There are probably many people out there that feel that they have legitimate uses for this technology. Many people purchased WMA files for $1 a song and they bought a WMA capable MP3 player thinking that they can play their music. The problem is that many WMA players that have the "WMA" sticker on the box will not play DRM protected PlayForSure WMA content and this leaves the consumers frustrated. FairUse4WM will permit them to play the music which they purchased legally on their non-DRM compliant WMA players, but this also means "rented" music can be played too. Since there is no distinction between purchased WMA content and subscription WMA content to a non-DRM player, there is no way to have fair use of purchased WMA content without the ability to break subscription WMA content as well.
Microsoft expects you to purchase a WMA player that has licensed PlayForSure technology which would let you play DRM-enabled WMA files but I'm not sure consumers even know the difference. For example (as much as Apple would cringe at this), many consumers even refer to a WMA player as an iPod since iPod has almost become a generic term. At this point, none of this matters because the DRM is broken and Microsoft will have to make adjustments to the DRM scheme to break FairUse4WM though I doubt Microsoft will be able to retroactively modify the files people have already downloaded. When a fix is released from Microsoft, FairUse4WM will simply have to figure out how to break the new scheme and the cat and mouse game will continue. While the music companies will cringe at this technology, this might ironically have an upside for Microsoft's soon to be released Zune player since many consumers view a weaker DRM as a better DRM. For now, the better name for Windows Media DRM is "what-DRM".