Thursday, December 15, 2005

Why Hackers Hate White Wolf: DRM, Success, and Misunderstood Ideas

Geeks of one type are often geeks of another kind as well. This is especially true of Role Playing Geeks, many of whom are knowledgable and skilled computer experts. Some rpg/computer geeks are the kind of people who have strong opinions against Intellectual Property protection, you know the kind of people who believe that "information wants to be free yo!" Music, books, tv show, if one know's how to use bit torrent or one of myriad other ways to download entertainment on to your computer, you can find what you want and not have to pay for it. Well, White Wolf games decided to attempt aggressive measures to protect their IP, and it appears that the less than scrupulous have decided to make them pay. You know the type, those who make Windows based viruses because Micro$oft is evil, and everyone should be using Linux anyway.

White Wolf has had some aggressive IP protection policies in its past, and I believe that is why they had to release the following press release:
Dear White Wolf Users,
Like many other well-known companies of the last few years, White Wolf was the target of an attack by international hackers this weekend. These hackers are now attempting to extort money from us with the threat of posting user data to the internet. We have

no intention of paying this money, and are in contact with the FBI in an attempt to bring these criminals to justice.

We are choosing to make this public so that our users and fans can take any precautions needed to protect themselves. We are recommending that if you have used your White Wolf user password as the password for any other services you use on the internet, that you change them immediately.

These hackers were able to exploit a flaw in our software and access user data, this data included usernames, email addresses and encrypted passwords. As far as we can ascertain, they were unable to access any credit card data (nor have they claimed they did). However, it is possible for the encrypted passwords they accessed to be decrypted given enough time.

In addition, the site will be down for the next few days while we evaluate some of the software we are using and take appropriate action to help prevent future attacks.

We appreciate your patience and concern while we work through the details of this process.

In addition to this posting we will be emailing our userbase with this information. For correspondence regarding this, please direct all queries to .

Why would hackers want to attack White Wolf? Is it really for the "user information" and possible fraud that can be gained from Credit Card information? Possibly, but I believe it is because of their aggressive IP policies. Someone wants to make White Wolf pay.

What are these aggressive policies?

When White Wolf began its online e-book service for roleplaying games (Drive Thru the pdf files they offered where protected with DRM technology. DRM is a kind of digital registration program which prevents (or helps prevent) filesharing by tracking each individual file and requiring proper registration. There are some technical issues with DRM, as Adobe came out with new editions of Reader old DRM files sometimes couldn't be opened, Linux (information wants to be free yo!) users are adamantly in opposition to them, and there is a possibility that DRM files could leave security backdoors. A "carnival" presentation of many of the griefs against White Wolf and DRM can be found at Boing Boing. Needless to say, by instituting the very unpopular (among a very sophisticated crowd) technology White Wolf made a few enemies. White Wolf eventually removed the DRM protection and decided to go for a "watermark" protection which lists the purchaser of the product as a watermark. Thus is they suspect file sharing, they can find out who is the root sharer, but tracking/discovering theft is nigh impossible.

Then early this year, White Wolf attempted to protect their IP and ensure that those who charge others to play in events based on White Wolf products had to pay a royalty fee. This didn't mean that people playing the game for fun, in their homes, had to pay a royalty as the permission was in the purchase.

Rather White Wolf was looking at their products as a type of interactive theatre production and that others were charging people to participate in White Wolf based "live action" theatre events. White Wolf believed that those charging people to play in "live action" events should pay White Wolf a licensing fee. Their view was that it was the equivalent of the local theatre company having to pay rights on any play it charges an audience a fee. Some people might have a knee jerk reaction, and many did, to this and scream, "I shouldn't have to pay to play a game!" They are, naturally, correct. You shouldn't have to pay merely to play a game. But some people do charge to run Live Action Role Playing events. At it is wrong to think that when others are charging to play White Wolf's intellectual property that the people who are already charging players to play don't owe a royalty to White Wolf. It isn't hard to figure out folks. If you are making money off of some one else's IP, then you owe a portion of the proceeds to the creator(s). If I make a CD filled with me playing Johnny Cash songs, and I charge for the CD, I owe the Cash family some money. If I charge for a production of "The Producers" by Mel Brooks, I owe Mel some green. If I charge money for running an adventure in the "World of Darkness" using rules created by White Wolf, making money solely because it is White Wolf IP, then I owe White Wolf money. The only reason people who charge for their "storyteller" services are making money is because they are running a White Wolf game. But as you can see from discussions, many people don't care and were downright angry at the prospect and White Wolf had to reverse their policy.

Needless to say, you can see I am very much in favor of protecting IP, I don't hesitate to call filesharing theft. Maybe it is that my wife, and many I know, work in fields where IP is costing individuals I care about money. I can say adamantly that it is. It's funny how everyone wants to become a millionaire musician, writer, or artist, but that no one wants to pay for the products that others make. Filesharing and theft of IP seem to me to be childish, "I can take it for free so I will and they can't stop me!" behavior. The defenders of it make ridiculous arguments and mock the advertisements made to defend Intellectual Property. I can't tell you how many people are employed by the entertainment industry. I can't tell you how hard they all work. I can tell you that every time you download a file for free you are taking money from struggling songwriters, game designers, sound mixers, sound editors, journalists, etc. Instead of looking at what you are getting, think about what you would be losing if it were your product. Sure you might like millions of people to look at your creation, fame is desired by many. But fame doesn't pay the bills when you are older.

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