August 25, 2006
Windows Media DRM has apparently been compromised. Reader Frank Payne pointed me towards a program called FairUse4WM that decrypts Windows Media files. I had heard of a similar program recently called drmdbg. I cannot confirm how and the extent to which these function, including incompatibilities with certain software setups. I also can’t tell how new these tools are — I found posts about drmdbg from over a year ago, but only news in the last few months about FairUse4WM. Regardless, the tools apparently are ways around the DRM for WMA and WMV, including Janus DRM.
While interesting news, it’s rather irrelevant to online media services using WM DRM. Most users won’t care about these decryption tools, not because the DRM is “consumer-friendly,” but rather because there are already readily-accessible alternatives to acquire unencrypted copies and thus get around the DRM’s unfriendly limits.
About a year ago, I reported on the development of a work-around for pre-Janus WMA DRM. To my knowledge, this development never produced a working crack, and, given how readily other DRM systems like CSS have been circumvented, that may be surprising to some. One might wonder why it took so long for a decryption utility to become widely-available.
The most plausible answer is that the online music DRM is so easy to get around that essentially no one gives a damn about actually circumventing it. If iTunes or Napster Light users want to make a use that the DRM prohibits, he or she can burn the song to CD and rip, use the analog hole, or get on a P2P network. All three are trivially easy ways to get an unencrypted copy and make circumvention practically unnecessary. The subset of users unable or unwilling to perform these steps is, I suspect, an incredibly low percentage of the whole userbase. (Which is not to say that the DRM causes no outrage or damage among users. That small subset of users is unfortunately prevented from making many non-infringing uses of purchased music, while the DRM does nothing to prevent “Internet piracy.”)
This answer is a lot more compelling, I think, than believing that the online music DRM was particularly well-designed and difficult to beat in the face of the DMCA. But my answer prompts another question: why would these WM tools come out at all, and why now?
I can think of two main responses. First, people might still have wanted to create these tools for fun. Sure, few would have a practical use for them, but that discourage everyone. The alternative avenues for DRM evasion merely meant there was less incentive to work on a decryption tool and thus less people developing one — less, but not zero.
Second, the recent though meager growth of Movielink, Cinemanow, Rhapsody Unlimited, Rhapsody-to-Go, and similar services created a matching recent though proportionately meager increase in incentives to create decryption tools. All the content on those services remains readily-accessible on P2P. But burning and re-ripping is not possible, and, for movies, using the analog hole is a little bit more difficult. So, with those alternative avenues slightly cut off, that was enough to kickstart a little renewed interest in creating an actual decryption tool.
That’s my speculation. Again, this doesn’t really affect the argument over whether DRM+DMCA can achieve their intended purpose of stopping “Internet piracy” — they don’t and can’t, as I addressed at length in recent posts. But that would have been true had these tools never been created.