Intercepting Quicktime

A recent CNN article the entitled "Norwegian hacker cracks iTunes code" tells the the story of Jon Johansen's latest effort, QTFairUse:

The new program circumvents iTunes' anti-copying program, MPEG-4 Advanced Audio Coding, by legally opening and playing a protected music file in QuickTime, but then, essentially, draining the unprotected music data into a new and parallel file.

While the headline is incorrect (no encryption or code was broken), the sentence above is an accurate description. As long as one has access to the internals of the Operating System (OS), one will have access to raw "decoded" sound. GNU/Linux is open, and I've used this fact to save and encode real audio files for quite some time now ( However, there are dangers; I use the vsound tool which the original author discontinued:

October 27th, 2002

Although I have maintained vsound for nearly three years, I can no longer do so, nor can I continue to make it available from this web site.

I live in Australia which has a law (Digital Agenda Bill 2000) which is similar to the DCMA in the US in that it makes the distribution of a devices for circumventing copyright protection illegal. I have neither the time, money or inclination to make myself a possible target for such legal action by companies with endless legal and financial resources.

Johansen is an interesting character in this latest drama because he was also prosecuted for writing DeCSS, the tool I use to watch DVDs under Linux. In March 2003 he was acquitted in Norway, "The court finds that someone who buys a DVD film that has been legally produced has legal access to the film. Something else would apply if the film had been an illegal pirate copy."

So now, Johansen is taking a stand for reasonable use once again. However, the Norwegian legal system has shown some sanity, and they don't have a DMCA. He's probably safe. In the U.S. the publisher 2600 was successfully sued for merely linking to a site which had the DeCSS software. Also, things like QTFairUse and vsound are used by some in the industry to argue that the law should mandate DRM (Digital Rights Management) in all software and operating systems, rendering open systems such as GNU/Linux illegal.

Ported/Archived Responses

Shay David on 2003-11-29

One oft ignored aspect in stories of ‘decoding’, ‘cracking’ or otherwise tempering with DRM systems is that technically these systems don’t stand a chance in the long run, and that this is why the media juggernauts turned to legal battles. In principle, any system that is able to play a piece of music or show a video has to be able to access the data. This implies that there is a path to the data and this, in turn, means that the data could be somehow accessed. Somewhere along the line a sophisticated enough Johansen will come along and crack the thing open. If you’re a media mogul your only resort is to go to the court. For users, tough, there is at least one more secret hope: if worse comes to worst and all the digital circumvention tools are outlawed  – the data could always be re-captured analogically (and later re-encoded digitally): for years all of us thought that making an analog copy of our best friend’s audio cassettes was the next best thing after sliced bread. Decreasing one generation of an MP3 is not likely to reduce our enjoyment form it. Dell just came out with an MP3 player that has a built in mike and encoder ( ).

I wonder, what does the DMCA say about copying songs off the air?

Trackback from world @ haydur on 2003-11-30

First it was this stupid asshole from Los Angeles county, who recently declared that the use of the term's Master and Slave in computer systems to be offensive, only because one person complained. That guy must've been frozen in time,...

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