Friday, January 15, 2010

Copying Windows Binaries

Maybe this is piracy, maybe it’s not. I have a tool installed on my computer and when new programs are installed it discovers them and pops up a lovely prompt asking if I will allow the executable to be copied to some computer somewhere. I haven’t looked into it deeply but it doesn’t seem to be aware of software licenses and whether the license for that binary allows for it to be redistributed. Maybe it is and maybe it’s not. It doesn’t seem like the tool is based on some kind of prior agreement between the tool author and the owners of each and every software package that it’s prompted me to allow copying their binaries. If it did, it doesn’t seem like it would need to ask me if it’s okay, except to honor my privacy. Maybe this copying falls under “Fair Use” or maybe it’s just not worth suing over. Maybe it’s piracy and I’m an accomplice.

The tool in question seems to be an inherent feature of Windows 7. It may have been in Vista, which I skipped. If I recall correctly the prompt says it’s part of Windows Defender which I believe is part of Windows security. The obvious conclusion is that it’s grabbing the file to analyze it for malware. If it is, it seems like it could just run a few different cryptographic hash functions over it and if any one of them differ, then it copies the file. I don’t think it’s doing that because I’m sure I’m not the first person to install the latest Acrobat Reader appropriate for my platform. What are they doing with them? Maybe we help them collect binaries for competitive analysis and it’s not just strictly for security.

Maybe it isn’t enforceable or no one would dare sue Microsoft, but it seems to me like I’m violating someone’s copyright or license.

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