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Sony's CD rootkit infringes DVD Jon's copyright

How did that happen?

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Sony's rootkit-style DRM software, XCP, designed to prevent copyright infringement, looks like it's breaching the terms of a copyright agreement itself.

In fact it contains code written by the Motion Picture Ass. of America's villain of the week for several years running, 'DVD Jon' Johansen, who was dragged through the Norwegian courts by the MPAA using a very dubious extension of US law, for circumventing the DRM on DVDs. Johansen eventually prevailed in having the spurious charges against him thrown out.

The irony of a company using code from someone who circumvented DRM to develop an even nastier form of DRM - without even saying "Thanks!" - will surely feature in geek trivia quizzes for years to come.

The British company that developed the DRM software for Sony, First4Internet Ltd, has included free software code covered by the Free Software Foundation's LGPL, a cousin of the GPL, amateur sleuths have discovered.

The LGPL, or Lesser General Public License, was designed to protect author's rights for chunks of code rather than finished programs.

It's a complicated area, with subtle distinctions between rights over code that is compiled into, and distributed as part of the final binary program, or code that is only called at as the program is executed. But it is pretty clear cut that First4Internet has used code without observing the terms under which it's distributed - terms backed up by the power of copyright (one of our greatest inventions).

And we all know what happens to people who don't respect copyright.

Sebastian Porst discovered code from the LAME project, mpglib and VideoLAN in the XCP copy restriction, which has caused Sony so much grief. Jon Johansen is a contributor to the VideoLAN project.

"I just want to mention that the function that can be found at virtual offset 0x10089E00 in ECDPlayerControl.ocx is the function DoShuffle from a GPL-ed file called drms.c written by Jon Lech Johansen and Sam Hocevar (Google for it)," notes Sebastian.

A parallel, and even more exhaustive forensic examination of the XCP code was undertaken by 'Muzzy' - who published his findings here.

So why is First4Internet in such trouble? If you use LGPL code, the licence requires that you acknowledge the provenance of the code you're using - with a clear notification and an assurance that you can provide your own source code on request. It's designed to deter lazy programmers such as... well... the kind employed by First4Internet Ltd.

FSF attorney Eben Moglen told us this evening he couldn't offer a statement on what the organization planned to do next. ®

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