Microsoft to Fix Security Hole in DRM Application

Microsoft is preparing a patch for a vulnerability in its digital rights management application that is currently being exploited by a program circulating the Web. The program, called FairUse4WM, disables the DRM protections in Windows Media Player 10 and 11 files and has been used to access music purchased through subscription services.

Such services typically limit music to a certain time period, a certain number of portable devices, or according to the level of membership, using Windows Media technology as the gateway. FairUse4WM allows users to download and keep as much music as they want.

“By stripping away the DRM protection, FairUse4WM makes it possible for a user to sign up for a temporary account and keep all the music he is able todownload,” Joe Wilcox, senior analyst with JupiterResearch told TechNewsWorld.

Rekindling an Uncomfortable Dialogue

At face value, he said, the program is not a significant problem for Microsoft or its partners — such as the music service Urge — that rely on WindowsMedia for digital rights management protection. “It is unlikely that the majority of consumers are even aware of this program,” Wilcox said. “And the people that are aware of it and are willing to use it are unlikely to pay for subscription music anyway.” At any rate, it will be fixed shortly, he adds.

The emergence of FairUse4WM, though, did rekindle an ongoing discussion in the blogosphere as to the fair use of digital technology and the role of DRM. “It is a hot button issue,” Wilcox said. “Some people just don’t believe in DRM at all — they believe it is incompatible with fair use.”

Part of the problem is that this somewhat controversial issue has thus far not been adequately addressed by Congress or the courts.

Wilcox commented that “fair use has not been explicitly extended to the digital realm. We have it in the analog realm in part because of the Sony Betamax case.” He was referring to a 1984 Supreme Court decision that found consumers using VCRs to record TV shows were not violating copyright so long as their use of the recorded content was noncommercial. Wilcox pointed out that he is not an attorney, however.

Exploring the Digital Realm

While vendors have the law — or lack thereof — to support how they manage digital technology use, consumers’ expectations and demands do serve as a defacto limitation.

“Consumers tend to be forgiving of DRM technology so long as it is invisible and perceived to be fair,” Wilcox said.

He cites iTunes as an example, which allows consumers to listen to the same song on up to five computers and places no restrictions on iPods. “Consumers don’t even know it is there unless they exceed these limitations,” Wilcox said.

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