FairUse4WM completely breaks Windows Media DRM

FairUse4WM completely breaks Windows Media DRM

Summary: 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 but this method is slow and loses 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.

SHARE:
TOPICS: Legal
79

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".

Topic: Legal

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

79 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • A patch is in the pipeline ...

    http://www.engadget.com/2006/08/28/microsoft-already-on-their-way-to-patching-fairuse4wm/
    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
    • Cat and mouse continues

      The real take home message from this remains that DRM only stops the people who are bothering to obey the rules.
      Robert Crocker
      • "pay per use" being forced on consumers

        If you obey the rules, you are feeding the "new pricing models" they want you to buy into.

        DRM is only a piece of the "Content Restriction, Anulment, and Protection (CRAP)" puzzle that fits in nicely with the DMCA and antipiracy laws to force consumers to pay every time we view, transfer or otherwise manipulate legally purchased digital content.

        Attempts to make "fair use" null and void by the entertainment industry is not going well with consumers.
        ~doolittle~
        • No, p2p being forced on consumers

          As companies keep making legal versions of content harder and harder to access, and less and less usable, it's inevitable that more and more people will go get illegal copies with which they can do what they want. All DRM does is drive people to break the law.
          tic swayback
          • Yes and it's your duty to do so

            When a law becomes unjust you must take a stand or we will be stomped on.
            Protector
          • RE: No, p2p being forced on consumers

            I am in total agreement. Inability to play
            legally purchased tunes almost begged for someone
            to do this. Breaking the DRM on legally purchased
            music to enable it to play on your MP3 player is
            proper under fair use.
            joe6pack_z
    • Crack for that patch is on the way

      So much for that vacation time I had coming up ;)
      nucrash
      • no the atch will just simply disable windows applications

        an updated patch is on the way ! but no ocnsumers were actualy affected by the malware - officials said

        ms office will be run in safe mode for the next 3 months untill vista beta testers have the kupdate.
        not of this world
        • DDisable Office and other Microsoft applications?

          No, install the patch, try to start Open Office. ... Try again.
          Anton Philidor
    • ROTFLMAO!!!!!!

      On one of Adrian's blogs I recently said that most DRM schemes had a lifetime of 3 years before someone cracked them so expecting DRM to stitch up the O/S for the next 30 years was unreasonable.

      [b]I now apologise unreservedly.[/b] I was grossly irresponsible to suggest that DRM could be cracked in a time period of 3 years. I should have said 3 days!
      bportlock
    • Which Tuesday is the patch due?

      So will subscribers get a whole month to download free songs as we wait for Patch Tuesday? I'm sure the RIAA will love that.
      tic swayback
      • My collection just quadrupled

        In other news, Napster Subscriptions just went through the roof.
        nucrash
      • If wonder if they'll do a WGA patch...

        ... and list it as "critical" so that most mugs will apply it without thinking? I wonder how the accompanying text would read? [i]"This is a critical patch. If you do not apply this patch then you may be able to take control of your music and video collections without our permission."
        bportlock
    • But that won't work retroactively

      I don't see how it can, at least if you're offline.
      georgeou
      • In theory....

        an update could insert a program that in the background scans your current unchanged drm'd files and updates the drm. They could even update WM itself to autoupdate the files when played.
        Hrothgar - PCLinuxOS User
        • Won't matter

          If you've already stripped out the DRM, they'll look like files you ripped yourself from cd. MS isn't stupid enough to add DRM to those, so at this point, every single song online at a WMA store is now out there as an unprotected file.
          tic swayback
          • Point was moot before the drm crack

            I can go to many p2p apps and get entire discographies with a click or two and guess what? no DRM. Just stay under the law suit radar and clean out the incoming and shared folders regularly. Sharing an album won't mean trouble but a couple of hundred songs means the sound track of jaws might be playing and you just don't hear it through your earphones. My CD collection is scratched all to heck but I keep them as proof of purchase should some one nock on my door. The only songs I have are in nonshared folders.
            Hrothgar - PCLinuxOS User
          • That's the irony here, this crack doesn't matter

            What's amusing is that MS and the stores have spent all this money on DRM. Now this crack comes along and their entire catalogs are now vulnerable. But it doesn't matter even the tiniest bit, because every single item in their catalog is already available without any DRM at all, either through ripping a cd or from a p2p network. It just shows how futile, stupid and useless spending any money on DRM is. Why protect downloaded files when you're still selling them unprotected on cd's?
            tic swayback
    • Makes no difference now

      Now the first significan software related fix for this is out its typical that any patches to guard against such a thing are shortly lived, and in fact often the updated versions designed to defeat patchs begin to focus on methods of removing the effectivness of any patching, usually resulting in the original programming the software is defeating in haveing to be completly redesigned in order to be effective again.

      Further, now that the first software solution for this issue is out, it is not going to be the last, there are always a pile of coders out there who see something like this and say "Hey! Thats a good idea, bet I can do it better!" And within a year there are 3 or 4 of these kinds of things floating around.

      Problem is, there really isnt any effective software solution for imposing DRM, is has got to be at least partly hardware based because to a large degree, what ever can be written as a software solution can eventually be unwritten by another coder. Unless those trying to impose DRM strictly through software are prepared to do weekly patching of their software, they have got to rely on hardware somehow as thats not something the average user can quickly or easily alter.
      Cayble
  • A broken model

    is either a STUPID model or an opportunity for change. No matter how much tech companies WANT to use DRM - it's problematic. You will only stay 1 step ahead - for a short period of time. This reminds me of the M$/AOL IM one-upsmanship where M$ would break in and AOL would respond by putting up new barriers. This ended in a stalemate - which is where we are today with DRM.

    The Streaming Paradigm is the RIGHT model for music. No DRM - just good old fashioned convenience.
    Roger Ramjet