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Daniel Eran

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Image Flash in the Plan - a DRM Disaster
This summer, Macromedia launched a trial campaign to install DRM software on their customer's computers to lock down software functionality and report back to the company how the software is used.
The trial started with Contribute 2.0 and now includes the entire MX 2004 line of Flash, Dreamweaver, Fireworks and Freehand. It uses the same SafeCast software from Macrovision that caused Inuit embarrassment and controversy with their locked down Turbo Tax product. The backlash from customers was so painful that Inuit dropped SafeCast entirely.

Macromedia is hoping users will play along with the new DRM initiative, following the trail blazed by Microsoft's mandatory license verification in Windows xp and Office xp. Users unhappy with Macromedia's new DRM are left to fill out a survey or qualify for the volume license agreement version that does not use SafeCast.

While the program calls product activation an "anonymous, secure, and hassle-free process," and states it "does not affect the ability of licensed users to use their software as they always have," users of MX 2004 products have found otherwise.

Macromedia's license agreement requires users to 'agree that the company may audit use of their software for compliance with company terms at any time,' and further absolves Macromedia of any liability for damages caused by any errors in their software, including the SafeCast DRM. But SafeCast's methods for DRM lock down may cause more than just a one time annoyance for many users.

Is SafeCast safe, or just a cast?
The SafeCast DRM software is designed to prevent customers from installing Macromedia's locked down software more than twice. Unfortunately, SafeCast achieves this by writing data to the customer's hard drive outside the filesystem in a reserved area. This not only creates the potential for data corruption caused by conflicts with other software utilities that also write in this reserved space, but also ties the license to the hard drive in a way that can't be backed up, and is destroyed when the hard drive is reformatted. Once that happens, users will have to stop and request from Macromedia the ability to use their software again.

On their website, Macromedia has attempted to outline for their customers how simple SafeCast is to use. Customers have 30 days after installing their software to activate it, either over the Internet or using a touch tone phone. Internet activation is quite simple. So simple, in fact, that most customers won't realize that Macromedia is installing DRM software along with the product they buy, to run in the background and monitor their use of the software, as well as writing to their hard drive in a reserved, irretrievable location.

Additionally, customers who install the new locked down software have no reason to suspect that formatting their drive, experiencing a hard drive failure, or the loss or theft of their computer will irretrievably destroy their right to install their software again, even when using their original install media and serial number.

For example, a customer who installed Flash on a system with two partitions, then decided to repartition their drive into a single partition, would unwittingly destroy the SafeCast license key on their drive in the process. In order to reinstall their software, they would have to call Macromedia to explain why they wanted to reinstall their software and ask for permission to reinstall it again.

Part II > Headaches with Flash


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