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Hackers turn tables on file-swapping firms

By John Borland
Staff Writer, CNET News.com
April 25, 2002, 4:00 AM PT

The record companies had their Napster, and the stream of file-swapping companies that 
followed. The file-swapping companies now have their "Dr. Damn."
For the past several weeks, the pseudonymous programmer, who says he's a male college 
student and declines to give his real name, has been releasing versions of popular 
file-swapping programs online with the advertising and user-tracking features stripped 

He's done Grokster and iMesh. And he's not alone. His work, now available through the 
Grokster and iMesh networks themselves, joins that of other programmers who have 
previously "cleaned" programs such as Kazaa and Audiogalaxy in a campaign against 
"adware" and "spyware."

"I've never been a big fan of large companies spying on their users," Dr. Damn wrote 
in an instant messenger interview. "Especially me."

The college student and his "Clean Clients" site form just one part of a growing 
backlash against the software now routinely bundled with free file trading programs. 
These piggyback software packages, which include Gator, Cydoor, and others, often 
track computer users' activity online to show them targeted advertisements. In 
Altnet's case, the add-on promises to turn users' computers into links in a new 
for-profit peer-to-peer network.

The "clean" software movement, which threatens to pinch off the stream of advertising 
and bundling revenues that supports free software, has put the file-swapping companies 
in an awkward position. For years, record companies and movie studios have complained 
that Napster, Kazaa, Morpheus and others were contributing to the theft of their 
intellectual property.

Now those same companies, seeking revenue to support their own businesses, are 
complaining that their intellectual property is being hijacked. In almost every case, 
the hacked version of their software is even being distributed through their own 
file-swapping networks.

All of the software companies require people to accept terms of service, which bar 
users from hacking into the software. These "click wrap"-style agreements have 
generally been upheld by courts, unless the terms are deemed unreasonable.

Kazaa's agreement, for example, states: "Except as expressly permitted in this 
License, you agree not to reverse engineer, de-compile, disassemble, alter, duplicate, 
modify, rent, lease, loan, sublicense, make copies, create derivative works from, 
distribute or provide others with the KaZaA Media Desktop Software in whole or part or 
transmit the application over a network."

But the file-swappers' difficulties aren't drawing much sympathy from more traditional 
intellectual property circles.

"It's refreshing to see they're interested in fighting for intellectual property," 
said Amanda Collins, a spokeswoman for the Recording Industry Association of America.

Same great MP3s, less filling
The most popular of the hacked file-swapping sites, Kazaa Lite, has already attracted 
legal threats from Sharman Networks, the Australian company that owns the Kazaa 

"We mean to stamp it out," said Sharman CEO Nikki Hemming in a conference call Tuesday.

Kazaa Lite was allegedly created by a Moscow resident who uses the name "Yuri." Few in 
the file-swapping community will admit to knowing how to reach this figure, and some 
have even speculated that he's an invention to protect the actual creators of Kazaa 
Lite. However, the software has been floating in various places around the Net for at 
least two months.

A manifesto allegedly written by Yuri, posted on one of the original distribution 
sites, describes the creator's motivation. In the message, he thanks Kazaa for 
creating good software, but says its bundling policy is misleading.

"The real workings of these third party software is not sufficiently explained to the 
end users," the message attributed to Yuri reads. "The legal notice is very long and 
difficult to understand, particularly for those whose native language is not English. 
Fact is that most users of KaZaA don't even know that there were some third party 
software installed by KaZaA, or more important what that software does."

One of the most popular distribution points for the software is KazaaLite.com, a site 
run by 18-year-old Scottish university student Shaun Garriock. He says he started the 
site in late February and receives software updates by anonymous e-mail from Yuri. 
Other people around the world have started e-mailing him versions of the software in 
other languages, he says.

Sharman Networks is fighting back. They've successfully had the Kazaa Lite software 
taken out of Download.com, a popular software aggregation site operated by News.com 
publisher CNET Networks. In a conference call Wednesday, Sharman's Hemming said the 
company was in the process of seeking cease-and-desist orders against everyone in the 
KazaaLite distribution chain--"the Muscovite and everybody," she said.

"They're essentially hackers and rippers," Hemming said. "Basically our brand name is 
being damaged quite significantly by these activities."

Not all file-swapping companies are as sensitive to the issue.

"I'm personally aware of it," said Michael Merhej, CEO of Audiogalaxy. "Have I thought 
about it for a second? No."

According to Dr. Damn, the "cleaned" versions of the software aren't hard to create. 
He says he just looked at what the official Grokster and iMesh installation programs 
were putting on his computer, and then built his own installer, and put only the 
ordinary Grokster and iMesh files inside.

The advertising software built by Cydoor is built more deeply into Grokster, Kazaa and 
several other software programs. But a "dummy" version of their software has been 
created by CounterExploitation, a pair of college students who have become online 
privacy activists. Their work is used in several of the hacked file-swapping programs.

The hacked software is just one thread of the Net's technological response to the 
explosion of bundled software. Lavasoft's Ad-Aware, a piece of software that can strip 
out adware and spyware components from other programs, has been downloaded hundreds of 
thousands of times.

But as the hacked software movement grows, it is being forced more deeply underground. 
Already Dr. Damn's ISP has told him it will no longer host his files. He's looking for 
another provider.

KazaaLite.com's Garriock says he's thinking of e-mailing Sharman Networks in hopes of 
repairing any damage done.

"Even if they take the site down the program will survive somehow," he wrote in an IM 
interview. "But I don't want to go to jail yet for the people."

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