Yesterday morning an Internet Investigator representing Microsoft called me at home requesting that Neowin cease all activity with AutoPatcher, a program headed by Antonis Kaladis and endorsed by Neowin for little under 4 years. Antonis received a standard take down request email through his AutoPatcher.com email address. We complied by pulling the forums on Neowin and the download page at AutoPatcher.com.
The news was quickly picked up by the likes of CNET, Slashdot and others but as of this posting we are yet to receive any sort of clear explanation as to why this decision was made 3 years after the program had been widely adopted by Neowin members, computer magazines and the industries system admins who use the program to speed up the installing of corporate machines.
A Microsoft Featured Communities representative as well as the Internet Investigator handling the case has pledged to look into the situation to find out exactly what prompted this sudden move. The only short explanation offered was the possibility of delivering malicious files with the package, something the AutoPatcher team has never done.
Updates which require WGA (Windows Genuine Advantage) validation are included, and can be installed (since the WGA validation only takes place on the machine that downloads them, not the one that is installing them) which theoretically bypasses the validation check users would normally have to go through if updating through Windows Update. Antonis had asked when WGA became common if this would affect the AutoPatcher project and the concept of administrative updates and a Microsoft representative said "No", arguing that the purpose behind WGA was mostly educational. The WGA tool itself (the one offered by Windows Update as a critical update) is included in AutoPacher, though not marked for installation by default.
Here is the email in full:
Demand for Immediate Take-Down: Notice of Infringing Activity
CASE #: ******
29 August 2007
Dear Sir or Madam,
Microsoft has received information that the domain listed above, which appears to be on servers under your control, is offering unlicensed copies of, or is engaged in other unauthorized activities relating to copyrighted works published by Microsoft.
1. Identification of copyrighted works:
Windows XP Media Center Edition
Windows XP Professional
Windows XP Home Edition
Windows XP Professional x64
Windows 2003 Server Enterprise
Windows Vista Ultimate
Windows 2000 Professional
Office Professional Edition 2003
Office Professional 2007
Office XP Professional
2. Copyright infringing material or activity found at the following
The above computer program(s) is being made available for copying, through downloading, at the above location without authorization of the copyright owner.
3. Statement of authority:
The information in this notice is accurate, and I hereby certify under penalty of perjury that I am authorized to act on behalf of Microsoft, the owner of the copyright(s) in the work(s) identified above. I have a good faith belief that none of the materials or activities listed above have been authorized by Microsoft, its agents, or the law.
We hereby give notice of these activities to you and request that you take expeditious action to remove or disable access to the material described above, and thereby prevent the illegal reproduction and distribution of this software via your company's network.
We appreciate your cooperation in this matter. Please advise us regarding what actions you take.
on behalf of Microsoft Corporation
One Microsoft Way
Redmond, WA 98052
United States of America
So the only infringement of copyrighted work would be the free updates that Microsoft offer for download, the email makes it sound like copies of the above mentioned Microsoft products are freely available for download!
We'll keep you posted but for those that think we are "weak" for taking down both AutoPatcher.com download page and the forums here on Neowin I just have this to say, sometimes it is better to comply so that the problem can be talked about in an orderly manner rather than being the rebel without a cause and then ultimately facing further problems of the Microsoft Legal machine.
The plot thickens
A Neowin member asked a Microsoft representative (who remained nameless) about the implications of distributing hotfixes and Antonis received a reply on August 15th 2005:
The flaw in the poster's logic is that he doesn't understand the purpose of WGA. WGA is first and foremost an educational tool. A lot (probably a majority) of people using an illegal copy of Windows don't know that they are doing so. WGA flags the copy as illegal and directs the user to upgrade, helping Microsoft recover sales they would have lost otherwise. WGA also creates an irritant that should prod a lot of casual pirates to eventually pay for a legitimate copy. WGA was never intended be a 100% solution. Therefore, redistribution of hotfixes doesn't constitute a "flaw."Hardly official but I can tell you since my frequent meetings with Microsoft over the past 2 years, I have asked the same question of WGA's purpose and I got the same answer.