Microsoft Remains Silent on AutoPatcher

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

URL: http://www.autopatcher.com/downloads/
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:

Copyrighted work(s):
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

Copyright owner:
Microsoft Corporation

2. Copyright infringing material or activity found at the following
location(s): http://www.autopatcher.com/downloads/

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.

Yours sincerely,

****** *******
Internet Investigator

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.

Link: Microsoft Ceases AutoPatcher Project
Link: Neowin Forum Discussion

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60 Comments

Commenting is disabled on this article.

I don't think this is targeted directly on Autopatcher.

I work for a Controls Company that used to give out Service Packs along with it's software and we received the same complaint from Microsoft.

Is just how they do buissness I guess.

lol "WGA is educational"

No wonder it's so painful...

Notice it does not mention Vista Home Basic, Home Premium and Business editions under copyrighted works.

Well thats made my mind up... Unless Microsoft lets this valuable tech tool continue, I'm going to migrate all Windows systems under my control to Ubuntu.

Batfink

which its very sad, i never used autopatcher before but i guess that choice its something that microsoft like to get rid of, a bad thing indeed

complete and utter **** tbh, auto patchers been around for years and now they do something about it, freakin typical microsoft

Yeah i think i know why microsoft wants to do this to autopatcher, its freeware, its competition against shavlik(which was just recently sponsored by microsoft in april 2007) i mean look how much shavlik costs(not cheap), if autopatcher is hurting there business of course there going to wanna eliminate the competition.

http://www.shavlik.com/history.aspx

i ran autopatcher on a win2k server once, within hours it was exhibiting symptoms of a problem that should have been fixed with a previous patch, which was somehow missing after running autopatcher. needless to say i have never run it since then, use mublinder.

either way i dont see how you guys can really be so surprised that microsoft is stopping autopatcher. it totally bypasses all the work they put into WGA, did you think they just did WGA for lulz?
and anyway its their copyrighted, patented, all rights reserved, trademarked operating system, if you want free patches run linux for fax sake.
its one thing to pirate an OS its another thing to then turn around and whine about how unfair it is to not get free update service with it.

Don't blame autopatcher for not fixing a problem like you assume it should have. All autopatcher did was provide a simplified and handy way to maintain updates/patches from microsoft for everyone.

That program looks sketchy, I trust auto patcher more... when you start getting into user submitted patches, I would not install those on customers machines.

crazyturn2 said,
Don't blame autopatcher for not fixing a problem like you assume it should have. All autopatcher did was provide a simplified and handy way to maintain updates/patches from microsoft for everyone.

In the OPs situation autopatcher installed updates badly. But people would blame MS for that. Am I clear?

I'm sure they're shaking in their boots.

Oh come on. Everyone knows that there is nothing more effective than an internet petition.

Shane Pitman said,

I'm sure they're shaking in their boots.


meh thats the one Simon apparently made, meh all Simon did was post the link in IRC


ste

I think it's about the WGA although they didn't admit it. That goes well with this new era of Vista's further tightened grip of that. That it's able to spread malicious software disguised as Windows patches is true, but I mean, anyone can do that by uploading an appropriately named file somewhere. Surely the AutoPatcher team distinguish themselves from common lowly spammers that try to mislead users via phishing scams?

All this will do is rely on tools that auto download from MS directly (still bypassing WGA) and offer easy batch install function.

Again I'd like to request to all those who didn't contact MS yesterday when the news broke to do so, and request in a polite manner that Microsoft rethink the decision.

Large community support can only be a good thing, and making MS fully aware that we're unhappy about their decision might sway enough people to allow this to continue.

https://support.microsoft.com/common/survey...WS=mscomukform1 is the URL I've been redirecting people to.


Remember, please keep the message polite but do impress on them your extreme dissatisfaction.

Thanks wise one... have forwarded my post on the AP site article comments section to this address... have also posted links in that thread to contacts w/MS Legal - Intellectual Property Issues and Microsoft Public relations....

Hopefully the situation will resolve quickly when MS realizes that the actions of an apparent agent of the legal dept (investigator within or outside MS itself?) is causing an enormous amount of bad publicity, ill will in the tech community, and possibly violating Consent Decree conditions by infringing upon the AP Teams intellectual property rights to the AP code itself...

See the links on the page there...... let MS PR work it from their side and MS legal from theirs....

This story is rapidly circulating through the media channels as well.... guarantee that MS is going to have to do damage control from the negative publicity and to address it's compliance with anti-trust regulations...

I've also found links for AP Team / Neowin to initiate contact w/MS Legal for approved distribution of hotfixes, patches, service packs, etc.... if an agreement with this group is accomplished, then AP is back to biz as usual... however, there are probably going to be conditions to which AP will need to adapt to distribute the patches directly...

Over and over again though.... I think an uninformed "investigator" mistook patch distribution as distributing complete and illegal copies of the various operating systems.... failure to understand exactly that AP only releases what is publicly released patches/fixes/etc..... and failed to note that AP has been very consistent in encouraging LEGAL OWNERSHIP of Microsoft products....

Hi,

As I and others have already stated it would be possible to change AP so that is just downloads the hotfixes and patches directly from MS's servers for offline installation.

In this respect it would then work similar to Windows Update Downloader, 3C Updater or Offline Updates from Heise Security but within the AP framework.

However once you have all of the downloads (and the regular updates) then it would be a very small update for the MS patches each month.

I really hope that the AP team take this or a similar approach rather than just drop the whole project.

Kind Regards

Simon

IMO, Microsoft may have done this in error and are now trying to figure out the best way to remedy the situation. On the other hand, they may be trying to find a way to say this violates their TOS or something stupid like that. Although I don't see how.

The above computer program(s) is being made available for copying, through downloading, at the above location without authorization of the copyright owner.

In the mail makes it sound like AutoPatcher.com were offering full downloads of the above mentioned programs. Which is incorrect.

That's what I thought when I was reading it, too. It doesn't say "updates" or "patches" to the following, but rather the actual software itself. Granted, the patches / updates ARE the software to a certain extent, but they are certainly not the fully functional thing (obviously).

While this could be used in a counterpoint, I think you were right in deciding to remove AP for the time being, as the Microsoft legal team would probably rip Neowin a new one. It's sad that money buys power and this wouldn't really be fairly judged in court.. Oh well, what can ya do? As more details surface, I'm sure that I (and the Neowin community) will hopefully understand why Microsoft made this ridiculous decision.

"or is engaged in other unauthorized activities relating to copyrighted works published by Microsoft"

I think the above line explains it.

bobbba said,
"or is engaged in other unauthorized activities relating to copyrighted works published by Microsoft"

I think the above line explains it.

But it's been OK'd by Microsoft before. It's been circulated for years and featured in magazines.. Why is it suddenly an issue if it has never been a violation before? I for one would love to know.

It sounds like Microsoft gets the advantage of stopping a project that can be used to bypass WGA checks for installing patches, without having the disadvantage of being the ones that actually initiated the take-down action. It seems to have started by an "internet investigator" working on behalf of Microsoft's interests. In effect, Microsoft is distanced from the action.

Why would the AutoPatcher team invest so heavily in this project if they did (or, indeed didn't) know the legal implications?

If you read it, they did!

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.

Examinus said,
I think my question still stands.

Microsoft said there was nothing wrong with the Autopatcher project, so they continued with it. It's right there in the post above you. The one that replied to you. The one you apparently skimmed right over. Yeah, that one.

Eis said,
Microsoft said there was nothing wrong with the Autopatcher project, so they continued with it. It's right there in the post above you. The one that replied to you. The one you apparently skimmed right over. Yeah, that one.

bear said,
Sorry you must not know how to read.

I suggest you read my post again, because you've clearly misunderstood.

This is why it's so important to get information and approvals with legal ramifications in writing. I have no doubt that someone at Microsoft told Antonis that everything with Autopatcher was hunky-dory, but proving it without having said authorization in hand is iffy at best.

Nevertheless, the fact that Microsoft let this activity go on for four years is – if not evidence of its approval – evidence that it didn't disapprove of it. And while picking a legal fight with Microsoft is at best suicidal, maybe if enough of a public stink is raised about this, the company may decide that it's just not worth the bad press to enforce its rights on this issue.

Octol said,
This is why it's so important to get information and approvals with legal ramifications in writing. I have no doubt that someone at Microsoft told Antonis that everything with Autopatcher was hunky-dory, but proving it without having said authorization in hand is iffy at best.

Nevertheless, the fact that Microsoft let this activity go on for four years is – if not evidence of their approval – evidence that it didn't disapprove of it. And while picking a legal fight with Microsoft is at best suicidal, maybe if enough of a public stink is raised about this, the company may decide that it's just not worth the bad press to enforce its rights on this issue.

That is exactly my point. Thank you.

The Microsoft representative didn't even sanction it, he simply said the project would be unaffected by a new technology. That doesn't make it legal.