SunnComm Finalizes New CD Copy Protection Software

By Thomas Mennecke 11/1/04

On October 6, 2003, a Princeton University student named John Halderman released a report on SunnComm's copy protection software named MediaMax. While circumventing CD or DVD copy protection is hardly anything new, the ease in which MediaMax was defeated sent shockwaves throughout the technology world. By simply pressing the "shift" key when loading a CD, the copyright protection was defeated, allowing the individual to make an unlimited amount of copies.

The MediaMax software only worked if the CD auto run feature was active. Pressing the "shift" key temporarily halts the auto run feature while loading a CD. Of course, one can avoid the trouble of pressing the "shift" key by permanently disabling the auto run feature of their CD drive.


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According to John Halderman's paper, this is how MediaMax worked. "When a copy protected CD using MediaMax is loaded, it runs a file called LaunchCD.exe located on the disc. This program provides access to the DRM-controlled encrypted content, but it also loads a special device driver into the system's memory. On Windows 2000/XP, this driver is called SbcpHid. The LaunchCD.exe program also presents an end user license agreement (EULA). If the user ever clicks Accept to agree to the terms of the license, the MediaMax driver is set to remains active even after the computer is rebooted. The driver examines each CD placed in the machine, and when it recognizes the protected title, it actively interferes with read operations on the audio content."

As a testimony to MediaMax's weakness, even if you accidentally allowed MediaMax to infiltrate your machine, it was still easily disabled. Three days after the report was published, SunnComm expressed its outrage the only way it knew how: litigation.

In an angry press release by SunnComm, the company stated that "Mr. Halderman and Princeton University have significantly damaged SunnComm’s reputation and caused the market value of SunnComm to drop by over $10 million." In addition, SunnComm charged that the report was in violation of the DMCA (Digital Mellenium Copyright Act.)

However, public outrage by supporters of free speech and free press proved to be even more of a threat against SunnComm's livelihood. After a few days of grumbling they eventually backed down.

Looking towards the future, SunnComm has released version 5 of their MediaMax software. SunnComm states they have extensively tested their latest iteration of MediaMax with third party entities. In any case, according to SunnComm's press release, the results of the testing were "extremely positive." SunnComm does not specify whether the "shift" key issue has been resolved.

Slyck spoke with John Halderman about the questionable resolution of the "shift" key issue and the new MediaMax software.

"I haven't gotten a chance to take a look at it yet, but I intend to in the next few weeks.

I would be very surprised if they found a way to correct the shift key hole while maintaining widespread compatibility with standalone CD players."

Changes to the MediaMax software:

“Prior to MediaMax Version 5 (http://www.quiettiger.com/MediaMaxv5.0.html), CD copy management applications that involved DRM-protected songs required the content to be encoded and stored on the CD itself in what is referred to as a "second session or data session." The MediaMax Version 5 platform allows copyrighted digital music to be encoded with the required DRM security information and instantaneously delivered to the consumer's computer in real-time, or "on-the-fly" directly from the audio content on the CD. Utilizing this new product means there is no longer a need to store "pre-protected" copies of each music track on the disc and it also means there is more room for music and other enhanced bonus features on each new release. It is important to recognize the value proposition provided by the newest version of MediaMax in order to understand that this new platform reduces any potential publisher royalty liability the labels might incur when a second protected copy of every track is placed on the CD.

In addition to SunnComm's proprietary On-the-Fly Technology, MediaMax Version 5.0 features another component called Secure Burn(TM). Secure Burn allows the consumer to make personal backup copies of the CD; however, these backup copies are protected and will inhibit the user's ability to make a copy of the copy on their computer."

According to Mr. Halderman's June 21st, 2004, update, Velvet Revolver's CD "Contraband" used the MediaMax protection scheme. It was defeated by pressing "shift"....


For more excellent stories on P2P apps and digital music check out Tom's site at www.slyck.com



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