May 21, 2024

SunnComm's Latest

SunnComm is now taking yet another position regarding Alex Halderman’s paper – that the paper is just “political activism masquerading as research”. (The quote comes from SunnComm president Peter Jacobs, responding to a question from Seth Finkelstein.) Jacobs had expressed the same sentiment earlier, on an investor discussion board, in this vitriolic message, which he apparently tried to retract later.

[I can’t resist pointing out how hilariously wrong Jacobs is when he says that nobody affiliated with the EFF has ever produced any digital content worth selling. There are many counterexamples, starting with the three founders of EFF (Mitch Kapor, John Perry Barlow, and John Gilmore) who all became rich and famous by producing copyrighted works.]

As far as I can tell, what Jacobs is arguing, essentially, is that even though Halderman’s paper does not make any political argument, the paper might affect the public policy debate about DRM. What I don’t understand is why that’s a bad thing. It seems to me that an accurate, truthful research report has more merit, rather than less, if its results are relevant to a public policy debate.

To put it another way, Halderman stands accused of relevance, which can be a dangerous tactic for an academic to follow.


  1. allow the market to decide which ones work

    (I’d also like to point out that the market can hardly decide anything when it is illegal for the actors in the market — e.g., consumers — to exchange information about the results of earlier transactions.)

  2. In other words, instead of allowing consumers and producers of music the freedom to experiment with technologies and allow the market to decide which ones work and strike the best balance, Halderman advocates taking the question out of the hands of the individuals involved and making it political.

    I have two major problems with this summary:

    1) The government has already interfered with the free market by putting the virtually unlimited anti-circumvention clauses in the DMCA. The copyright holders have been granted great powers of control, which allows them to impede legal activities by the “consumers” backed by the force of law.

    2) The USA copyright laws were not developed by a process of allowing consumers and producers of music the freedom to experiment…, instead they were written at copyright conventions by special interests, and only occasionally changed with minor input from Congress (who usually failed to remember that they were supposed to be representing the consumers interests).

    I tend toward libertarian principles myself, but as I became interested in copyright reform it became apparent that “free market” solutions are only a small component of what is needed. The government is already inextricably involved. It is not Halderman who made this process political, but he does evidently realize that politics will have to be part of the solution. The market is not going to come up with an optimal solution when you have over hundred years of lopsided copyright laws as a starting point!

  3. Cypherpunk says

    Let me add one thing about this quote, “political activism masquerading as research”. I think it is half right but half wrong. Halderman does seem to have a political agenda which is driving the direction of his research. I doubt that he will ever write a paper approving of a copy protection system. As he wrote in an earlier paper, “The concept of audio CD copy-prevention is fundamentally misguided.”

    In his recent paper his wording is more cautious, but he clearly supports the position of the “many” who “agree that setting the balance [between rights and responsibilities] should be the purview of courts and legislators rather than media companies.” In other words, instead of allowing consumers and producers of music the freedom to experiment with technologies and allow the market to decide which ones work and strike the best balance, Halderman advocates taking the question out of the hands of the individuals involved and making it political. Thus, Jacobs is completely correct to characterize his efforts as political activisim.

    Where Jacobs is wrong is to say that Halderman’s work merely “masquerades” as research. Obviously, Halderman was truly engaging in research, experimenting with the technology to learn how it works and presenting his results.

    Research is of great value to all of us, and I applaud Halderman for his efforts. At the same time, I disagree with his politics and I wish that he had not used his technical paper as a soapbox for presenting his political views. Even though this copy protection system does not work, even if no copy protection system ever works, that is no foundation for saying that the issue must be decided by courts and legislators.

    Next time I recommend that Halderman leave his politics out of the paper and instead present only his technical results. That is a more appropriate and professional approach and will help to insulate him from half-truths like those advanced by Jacobs.

  4. SunnComm accused Halderman of wrongdoing for exposing their weak copy protection. “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”. Is SunnComm without sin?

    In December 2000, SunnComm announced a $20M deal with Will-Shown, who they described as a major Pacific Rim CD Manufacturer.

    SunnComm Inks $20+ Million Copy Protection Deal With Major Pacific Rim CD Manufacturer

    People are asking who is the Will-Shown Technology Company. Why would a CD manufacturer license copy protection? It is not a record label. Why would it commit so much to an untested product by a penny stock with no track record? How could a major Pacific Rim CD manufacturer not have a web site? How come it is not even mentioned on the web by anyone else? The stock price tripled in the days after the announcement. Who can find Will-Shown and clear up the mystery? A major Pacific Rim CD Manufacturer couldn’t just vanish like that, could it?

    SunnComm was previously named Desert Winds Entertainment. The SEC found a little problem with them:

    Paloma appointed Jacobs as president and Jacobs, who accused Halderman of wrong doing, was the person responsible for the Will-Shown press release.

  5. This point is a little muddy in Alex’s paper, but it sounds like the rip-munging DLL is installed as soon as the .exe is autorun. If the user chooses “No,” the DLL is disabled (but not uninstalled) and the CD is ejected.

    What Alex did, though, was to switch to a different app *while the EULA was displayed*. He was able to see the DLL in a Windows driver info window and disable it (to rip the disk without disabling autorun) and he was also able to try ripping the disk without disabling the DLL to hear the distortion it induces.

    What Alex was not able to do by not agreeing to the EULA is listen to the compressed music on the CD and examine the DRM attached to it.

  6. VR – your interpretation is exactly why Jacobs is furious.

    Take a look at my latest entry
    No Sympathy For The Devil – SunnComm’s Peter Jacobs v. Alex Halderman

    And also Derek Slater
    Thanks But No Thanks for the License, SunnComm

  7. I’m not going to read that EULA, so I can’t say for sure, but I’ve never seen one saying “You agree to have thus-and-so hidden file installed” … it tends to be heavy legal technical language that says you allow them to do nearly anything on your computer. Sure it is silly, which is why I found his comment ridiculous.

    As for the DMCA – I’ve seen it used in court against both those documenting copy protection and those breaking copy protection in ways I would call “free speech” and “fair use.” This case involves removing a HIDDEN FILE. Aside from this being another trivial gimmick (I have Explorer set to show hidden files, btw) I should be able to tell people how to remove such, or remove it myself, legally. This is rather different from, for example, reverse engineering encryption software.

    The key point is that these guys look like they don’t know what they were talking about – on one hand, they acted like this copy protection gimmick was powerful, then this fellow says Halderman didn’t come up with anything unexpected.

    I pretty much agree with that last point. It doesn’t take a genius to discover an “autorun” cd-rom. It would take five minutes to figure out they were depending on autorun to install the software, then a couple hours to decide that that was all they were doing. I would fully expect there to be some secondary method with autorun as a ruse. The whole thing suggests they really didn’t understand how basic it was, were surprised with all the news reports, but don’t want to admit that.

  8. VR, I expect they do ask permission — in the fine print of the EULA that pops up when the software installs itself. Of course, nobody reads those.

    And I’m not sure whether removing the file violates the DMCA — it is technically “circumventing a security measure” — but it’s one of those violations that is probably never going to be enforced. Rather, I think the reference you quote was saying that Haldeman’s post violated the DMCA, because he’s disseminating information on how to defeat the security measure.

    What I want to know is whether all of the engineers working on DRM for these media companies are complete idiots, or just so ashamed of their duties they refuse to do a good job — or whether they’re actually serving as kind of a 5th column, even, intentionally making the DRM child’s play to defeat.

  9. “Cypherpunk”: I assumed it was an “on-the-record”, public statement, from the context of the
    Ask The Prez

    And what he said wasn’t different in content or tone from two press releases or the answers already posted on the page (“They seem to born out of some Messiah complex hell-bent on saving the world from any technological attempt to protect artists and their property”).

    I suppose, in retrospect, I should have clarified that it was an on-the-record statement. But again, it didn’t look any different from their very public position statements.

  10. I liked this:

    “but to criticize MediaMax for not being secure enough is laughable, considering the position of the EFF which is that no stuff ought to be secured”

    Either he doesn’t get it or isn’t admitting to it. The laughable bit is that the “protection” could be defeated in such a trivial way, and quite unintentionally, if the user has “Autorun” turned off. Whether copy protection is good or bad is a separate question. Why even bother with such a trivially defeated product? At best it can annoy some, and do nothing to stop those who really want to copy the disk.

    “Halderman then publishes a how-to on getting our [copy protection off] by naming the hidden file (which the user has given us permission to put there)…clearly in violation of the DMCA”

    They asked permission to install a hidden file? I doubt it. And it is a violation of the DMCA to remove same from my PC? Great argument for getting rid of the DMCA. Don’t even talk to me about blanket EULAs.

    “he misrepresented his so-called “shift key” discovery … made us look like idiots and charletons”

    No, I think they did a pretty good job of that themselves.

  11. that last line is golden, Prof. Felten…

  12. First they accuse you of telling the truth, then they attack you for being relevant. How much more of this defamation can you take?

  13. Cypherpunk says

    I wouldn’t read too much into this. It looks more like an off the cuff comment, not a carefully crafted position statement. In fact I don’t see why Finkelstein “assumed” that the message was intended to be public. If Jacobs wanted to make a public statement, he would have replied publicly on his forum. Instead he sent the short comment as private email to Finkelstein, who then published it himself.