CyberTech Rambler

November 18, 2005

Bad to Worse for First4Internet

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 2:21 pm

The situation is getting from bad to worse (or worse to worst?) for First4Internet.

There are rumors on the net that First4Internet’s XCP program, the notorious rootkit DRM, violated the General Public License (GPL). Ironically, it is the VideoLAN code of DVD Jon that they violated. VideoLAN is one of the software that can bypass Apple DRM mechanism. Remember DVD Jon? He is the Norwegian nemesis for RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America). He is definitely on the top of their “Most watched” list. He was on the top of their “Most Wanted” list but they have to demote him back to the first list, after two unsuccessful attempts to prosecute him under Norwegian Law for the same offence. You got to take your hat off to this DVD Jon fellow. He managed to seriously upset the recording industry while standing at the correct side of the law. This is by no means a small feat.

There are other allegations that the XCP violated LAME’s and other softwares’ Lesser General Public License (LGPL). These allegations are relatively speaking, very minor. It evolves around allegely having source code from LAME but does not seems to be calling those code and failure to acknowledge using these LGPL code. The fact that one is not sure whether does using these code constitutes “mere linking” which is permissible under LGPL means we have to give First4Internet the benefit of doubt before saying that a major violation of LGPL occurs. With GPL-ed code, however, there is no ambiguity.

If it is true that XCP violated GPL code. The consequences for the company is dire. For a start, DVD Jon can bring a lawsuit forcing First4Internet to publish the source code to the XCP program or to withdraw the XCP software. First4Internet’s successor to XCP program will probably be affected as well, as it is unlikely that they write those program from scratch. They could in theory pay DVD Jon and other developers of the GPL-ed software they used to keep their source code out of open source. However, I do not think this is even worth considering this possibility, given DVD Jon’s track record. It only takes one person in the chain who disagree to scuffle the deal.

Most importantly, as far as I am concern, First4Internet credibility as a programming house is utterly destroyed. Dubious software practice (the DRM rootkit) is one thing, very bad programming (introducing vulnerability in the original DRM rootkit and then having a fix that introduce a bigger vulnerability) is another. Now, it seems that the company that creates DRM to protecting other people’s intellectual property is itself totally disregarding other people’s intellectual property. Perhaps I should not be surprised given its dubious software practice and bad programming. Now that there are three nails into their coffin, if it does not cause the company to collapse, hopefully a fourth nail will. Do I have sympathy for the company? Not a bit. In fact, I will pay for the chance to nail the fourth nail.

Returning to the issue that GPL requires downstream software to reveal its source code as well. Is it worthwhile forcing First4Internet to reveal their source code? As I am anti-DRM, any legal weapon that we can use to kill DRM, including forcing vendor to reveal their code, should be explored. But as an anti-DRM person, having the source code does not mean I will touch or use it, not even with a barge-pole. If the copyright holders of the GPL’ed software do indeed go down this route, the biggest benefit would be to show proprietary vendor that open source is not public domain software and they have to respect open source license as well.

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