To Make Its Case, Coupons.com Says It Blocks Users When It Doesn't

from the let's-get-this-straight dept

We recently noted the somewhat mixed ruling in the Coupons.com lawsuit over whether or not it’s a DMCA violation to merely tell people to delete some files from their hard drive. The ruling noted that Coupons.com was trying to make a rather questionable argument. It’s a bit technical, and it required multiple readings to really understand what’s going on here, but effectively, Coupons.com is trying to invoke the DMCA’s anti-circumvention clause to punish a programmer who figured out how to get around the limits enforced by Coupons.com’s software, which lets users use a coupon a limited number of times. The real issue in this case is whether the software is about preventing uses or copies. If it’s uses, then it’s not covered by the DMCA. If it’s copies, then it is. The court noted that it certainly seems like the software is focused on uses rather than copies, as there’s no actual part of the software that blocks you from accessing the coupons as much as you want. It just blocks you from using them.

The programmer, John Stottlemire, who is being sued in this case, writes in to let us know that Coupons.com has just described its system in a misleading way in order to convince the court that its software really is copy protection rather than use protection, claiming: “The features block an individual computer’s access to a particular coupon offer altogether if that computer does not have the proper registry keys in place.” In other words, there is copy protection that blocks access if the registry keys are missing.

That claim may sound a lot like copy protection, but that’s not actually how their system works. Coupons.com doesn’t block access to its coupons based on a registry key — because if you don’t have a registry key, Coupons.com simply issues you new one. And that’s not how copy protection usually works; that’s how usage protection works. If the system worked the way it was described to the court, then first-time users, who would not have the proper registry keys, should not be able to use Coupons.com because they would be blocked from accessing coupons. But Coupons.com doesn’t do that to new users — all users without registry keys are simply given new keys (and not blocked whatsoever).

Basically, Coupons.com appears to be pretending that its software doesn’t work without a certain registry key in order to convince the judge that its software actually qualifies under the DMCA as copy protection. But, if it were copy protection, then Stottlemire’s programs (or written instructions) for how to defeat the software by deleting the registry key wouldn’t work. All Stottlemire’s method of “circumvention” would do is trigger the copy protection to deny access. So, either Coupons.com is lying to the judge, or Stottlemire’s program and instructions couldn’t have done what they claim it did (in which case he wouldn’t have broken the law). So… basically, it sounds like Coupons.com is either lying or they have no case. And, if they’re lying, they don’t have much of a case either.

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Companies: coupons.com

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Comments on “To Make Its Case, Coupons.com Says It Blocks Users When It Doesn't”

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60 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Fighting over Coupons? You got to be kidding me.

I’ve never used the site, however if it were my company I’d be pissed. This isn’t a single $1.00 off coupon, who knows how much money is involved. Why do people stupidly make comments without thinking about situations.

If it were your business where you sold some kind of service, wouldn’t you be pissed off at all at the potential of losing money?

nipseyrussell says:

Re: Re: Fighting over Coupons? You got to be kidding me.

“This isn’t a single $1.00 off coupon, who knows how much money is involved. Why do people stupidly make comments without thinking about situations.If it were your business where you sold some kind of service, wouldn’t you be pissed off at all at the potential of losing money?”
errrr, maybe i mistunderstand your post, but the point of coupons is to drive business, doof. you cant just string together 10 $1-off coupons and get a $10 item for free – the business makes the $9 based on the premise that MORE people buying at $9 is better for them than less people buiying at $10 (for a limited time).

DanC says:

Re: Re: Fighting over Coupons? You got to be kidding me.

I’ve never used the site, however if it were my company I’d be pissed. This isn’t a single $1.00 off coupon, who knows how much money is involved. Why do people stupidly make comments without thinking about situations.

You’re complaining about the morality of printing out multiple coupons. That article is pointing out that, regardless of morality, the guy didn’t break any law in disclosing the information.

If this was your company, you should be pissed. The company released deficient code that doesn’t properly lock the customer in as intended. In other words, it’s the company’s fault, not a consumer’s. Covering up bad programming with legislation is a complete misuse of the law.

You might believe the guy is morally wrong, but being morally wrong isn’t necessarily against the law.

darjeeling says:

Yeaah Streisand Redux

This is a perfect example of the Streisand effect. I am an occasional user of coupons.com, and it never would have crossed my mind to tamper with my Windows registry key so that I could print out more than one internet coupon.

There have been times when the printer malfunctions, but coupons.com, in their infinite wisdom, won’t let me reprint the coupon that didn’t print the first time. Their customer service is no help either. Sorry, Charlie. You don’t get bread with one meatball.

Now I know the secret. Thanks a million, coupons.com.

Pete says:

People still use Coupons.com?

None of the grocery stores around me will accept coupons from Coupons.com. They always say they have a policy against accepting “Internet coupons”. So the times I have tried, it’s been a waste of my time and paper.

Regardless of that, wouldn’t it be easier to just take a screenshot of the coupon and print THAT multiple times, rather than messing with the registry?

darjeeling says:

Re: People still use Coupons.com?

I was told the same thing at a Ralphs Market (a Southwest grocery store chain owned by Kroger) by a clerk. I emailed Kroger customer service after a friend pointed out to me that there’s a coupons.com link on the Ralphs market own website.

The response I received was polite and to the point, and I printed it out (I’m such a geek) so I could carry it with my coupons. I was told that at least as far as Kroger stores, internet coupons are accepted. The only thing they won’t accept are printed out coupons for free products, which is understandable, because of the potential for fraud.

If you feel sufficiently motivated, you might email customer service or call corporate HQ for the last store that gave you the problem. It was worth it to me to spend the extra few minutes, as my family relies on coupons, and really, I wouldn’t hack coupons.com registry just to print out extra. It’s just hilarious that now I know how to do it, thanks to their bonehead lawsuit.

Anonymous Coward says:

Staying on subject

The entry by Mike is about a company who is suing a guy who does not have an attorney but has successfully had the claims against him dismissed twice thus far.

In response, the company makes false and misleading statements in the latest complaint they filed with the court.

Forget for a moment that its about coupons and ask yourself, “Why is the company so desperate that they have to lie to advance their claim against a pro se litigant?” Is their case that weak?

Coupon Guy says:

You can’t print to a PDF machine, an all-in-one or anything else that can grab the prnt stream. There never is an image of the coupon until it pops out of your pritner.

Frankly, no one cares if YOU print out an extra copy and go buy an extra can of peas. It is about RETAILER fraud. The retailer gets reimbursed the face value plus a handling fee. Without protection they could cheat, print out hundreds or thousands of extra coupons and turn them in for the cash.

That is also the point of the unique bar codes. If a cheating retailer made 100’s of photocopies they would be detected and civil/criminal action could ensue.

If the security is compromosed then the brands would no longer participate and that’s the end of the business.

THAT is why this is a big deal to them.

Oh and FYI – Most stores DO have printable coupons (from a different company, but same concept) on their websites, meaning most DO accept them. But sometimes the cashiers are clueless.

Correcting Coupon Guy says:

Re: #12

You’re wrong… pdf995.com, has a FREE (w/html ads) PDF printer.. very nice. The screen shot idea should work very nicely, too… just use some image editing software and cut off the edges.

Anyone against this (unless the coupons are for FREE products) is probably a shill for coupons.com

Correcting Correcting Coupon Guy says:

Re: Re: #12

The coupon never shows on the screen and although it does not detect 100% of image printers the “technology measure” checks to see if you are attempting to print as a PDF file. If you are, they do not allow you to print the coupon. Again, this is not 100% effective as there are some pdf printers that they are not testing for.

And trust me, I’m not a shill for coupons.com.

Rick says:

Note also that the coupons have two or three serial numbers on them, so even if you could print to PDF it wouldn’t do you much good, because any decent store scanning system would flag it as used. And if they didn’t catch it at the point of sale, they’d catch it later and possibly just decide to discontinue accepting such coupons in the future.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: An update.

Good luck with your case.

I’m really curious what kind of idiot programmers wrote the software for this company. Didn’t anyone happen to think “What if they just delete the registry key?” Seriously, it could hardly be more obvious to anyone who understands how their system works, it seems like it is either the fault of the project manager or the engineers who designed the system that it’s broken, not the fault of the person who was able to get around it. When was the last time the DMCA actually did ANYTHING good?

jm says:

coupon printer workaround. So sue me.

Even the latest software blocks printing to a pdf fake printer. I lost too many coupons due to my printer not working. So having a pdf copy ensures me I will not loose the coupon. I found a work around to the latest pdf-blocking software. Stall the print job by printing with the printer off or not ready. Go to c:windowssystem32spool and copy the print job to a safe place. Open the spooler from the systray and cancel the job. Open the spooler file with a viewer the supports the format. I downloaded “O&K Printer Viewer” for this. Print it to my pdf fake printer driver. Done.

Redneck says:

Coupons.com are not being open or honest about how their software works. The software collects unique identifiers from your computer to build up a serial number which is then placed on the coupon. This serial can then be verified as being valid on their website by anyone. Their policies are not clear to the end user what it is the software actually does. Hence there are privacy concerns as the data collected can be used to identify individual computers.

Further the software does not fully uninstall and leaves various registry keys/files behind. The names of which are made to look like legitimate windows registry keys/files, hence coupons.com are deliberately making it hard to find and remove them manually.

What coupons.com are doing is simply bad practice (there are better ways) and when someone rightly shouts about it or does something about it they try to lie and sue. Not a nice company.

This software shouldn’t be carrying the Truste, Verisign etc logos!

More info: http://www.benedelman.org/news/082807-1.html

Ryan Egesdahl says:

It's easier than you think...

All you have to do is install a fake printer (if you do not already have one) like a Color LaserJet using Add Printer and set it as your default. If you already have a printer, just disconnect your computer. You will also need a PDF printer like cutePDF or PDFPrint. Then, simply print your coupon, and when there is the inevitable error, open up the queue and select Properties. Go to the Ports tab and select the PDF printer and it will move into that printer’s queue. Just make sure you change it back before you try again. Right click the printer and select “Printer Properties to change it back.

42 says:

Try this as an idea

Anyone use a registry scanning software to determine a baseline of what registry keys are made before and after installation then simply remove those Registry keys.

If it records data I am sure that it is either using the MAC address of the network card along with computer name to create the special barcode. A simple but painful solution is to install VMWare n a WIN 7 box. Create a new XP Pro installation w/SP3 before launching VM session change the MAC address of your NIC, Launch VM Session, print coupon. Close out of VM software – Rechange your NIC MAC address back to original restart and repeat. I have never used coupons.com but if indeed they are recording this information then maybe this will bypass this problem. Any thoughts?

plb (user link) says:

Blocking PDF print spooling

There is a case, and it’s complicated. There’s a difference between use and copy. However in my investigations. Every single one of these coupon site has denied my PDF print to print coupons. My case is. I want to print all and file file electronically. I don’t want to waste paper until I’m ready to use it.

I’ve been a web developer for 18 years. They should be allowed to do block anyone. They claim within the print of it a copy protection takes places. That is retarded. The item is already on their server. Users are just calling to it.

This is outrageous. Not a lot of real people are going to do any misusing of coupons. We are all feeling the crunch and should be allowed to print electronically to file. Saving space and room in homes….Duh

Anon says:

Post #49

As this is my first post, it’s in effort to prevent users like me from wasting several hours – of downloading and OS and installing a virtual machine to get an error machine.

Coupons.con software recognizes a virtual machine and gives you the error “Coupon printing is not permitted in a virtual environment.”

To note, I used Hyper-V. Maybe it’s easier to someone modify Hyper-V to disable virtual machine emulation detection then to directly hack the coupons software.

Just food for thought.

mmelstron (profile) says:

Easy to catch and print the spool job

1st, add a ‘NUL:’ port then install a dummy printer to it. Print jobs to this dummy printer will go nowhere and then get flushed from your spool. To use it, you’ll need to set it as the default printer and ‘pause’ the printer to keep the spool filled with your coupon.
2nd, go the spool and copy the .SPL file. That’s the coupon waiting in queue before it gets flushed. Its usually in the C:Windowssystem32spoolPRINTER folder.
3rd, use an SPL View program to view and print the captured SPL file. I use SPL View from lvbprint.de website.
4th, ‘resume printing’ the dummy printer to flush out the print jobs.
I usually print a whole bunch of coupons on the ‘paused’ printer, then copy them when I’m done since the spool will not empty them until they’ve been printed ala ‘resume printing’.
FYI… printing via virtual machine is easy as well. Its a just registry setting that the installer looks for when it is first run. HKLMSystemCuurentControlSetservicesDiskenum and remote the word ‘virtual’ or ‘vm’ from this key.

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