Legal Issues

by Mike Masnick

Ubisoft's Use Of The (Star)Force Lands It In Court

from the wonder-what-defense-they'll-use? dept

Remember Starforce? The somewhat insecure makers of video game copy protection, who are often criticized for problems brought about by their copy protection system? It appears that someone finally got fed up enough with them to sue... However, they're not suing Starforce (based in Russia), but video game maker Ubisoft for using Starforce's copy protection, which they claim opens up huge security holes on computers without warning and without an easy way to remove the software. Remember, Starforce is also the same company that launched a silly publicity stunt contest to "prove" its software didn't do any damage. In order to win the contest, you had to bring a PC (must still be under warranty) to their Moscow headquarters at your own expense -- then install their software on their premises, and then prove that your CD/DVD drive no longer worked (only one of the various complaints some have had). If you failed, the company would publicly shame you on their website. And, of course, you only had a month and a half to show up at their office. Of course, at the end of that month and a half, when no one had shown up to take the "challenge," the company announced that it was proof their software was fine. I wonder if that's the defense Ubisoft will use in court. After all, it's been "proven" that the software is fine.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Horsey, Mar 31st, 2006 @ 3:56pm

    Starforce is lame

    Starforce also did something hyper-lame when they decided to point users to pirated versions of Stardock's game Galactic Civ II, in order to "prove" that it was easy to pirate the game, which had no CD copy protection.

    Penny Arcade made a comic about it:

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 31st, 2006 @ 6:00pm

    Re: Starforce is lame

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Pat Bateman, Mar 31st, 2006 @ 7:50pm

    Penny Arcade is lame

    It is very invasive - it installs a driver which directly connects to the drive, not using any other Windows drivers. But I don't think anyone has proven that it is destructive in any way.

    The hacker community is just pissed that it's working so well. Even though a relatively easy hack is to just disconnect your IDE drive and then mount an image of the game as usual, the hackers don't consider that a "win" over StarForce.

    I'm sure they will eventually prevail, but even when they do, I think this has proven that the technology is viable and worthwhile. Prior to StarForce, all the other copy protections were a total joke and hacked days after release.

    Companies only need to protect their game for the first few critical months before the game hits the bargain bin. StarForce has succeeded in that way. After it is cracked, it may take only another revision to put the hackers at bay for another 9 months or so, but 9 months or so is all it needs to protect the product for.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 31st, 2006 @ 8:10pm

    name a game protected by Starforce that u cannot find pirated, then tell me that its working well...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Bogamol, Mar 31st, 2006 @ 8:19pm

    Starforce is Lame

    Actually I don't mind that the product exists, but it pisses me off that people keep trying to put shit on my computer without telling me. In this case, I see Starforce as little better than Spyware. It's intentions are good, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Zarun, Mar 31st, 2006 @ 11:00pm

    TRue and maybe nOT

    I have to admit, I’m dirt poor and don’t always get my software from the most legal sources. But despite my vested interest it did seem at first that Starforce’s hatred was sour grapes. All things considered, the software really did do what its purpose was and many of the games where "uncrackable," at least for a while. But now it seems that time has proven Starforce does cause problems with CD ROMs and kills them slowly. In addition the "good" people at Starforce have again shown themselves to be no better than the "horrible criminal" pirates they have sworn to stop; Starforces’ ridicules contests and their crowing about the apparent victory. Their blatant encouragement of pirating a game from a company that refused to buy into their products. If the “problem” is as bad as the solution, then maybe its time to rethink the whole thing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    demonsun, Mar 31st, 2006 @ 11:15pm

    Re: Penny Arcade is lame

    I lost BOTH of my cd/dvd drives to starforce, that damn driver kept stepping down the ide transfer speeds until both of them just stopped working, until I heard about the starforce copy protection that caused this in some instances, I didn't have a clue about what happened, but lo,and behold, after I discovered that starforce was causing problems for some people, I looked on my system, and there it was, that little starforce driver, replacing the standard windows driver that should be there.

    And all of this because I have cd image software that I use to test images of my cd's before I send them off to be pressed.

    "The hacker community is just pissed that it's working so well. Even though a relatively easy hack is to just disconnect your IDE drive and then mount an image of the game as usual, the hackers don't consider that a "win" over StarForce."

    Wow, unplugging the ide drives still doesn't work, because of the way the driver works, the driver replaces the standard cd driver, which also happens to be the SAME driver that is used by most image emulators.

    since then I have traced the root of many of the system instabilities that have occured unexplainedly, to the fact that a game that uses starforce was played on that system. my only recourse was to reinstall windows.

    The biggest issue here is with the way this copy protection works, it doesn't, in fact it cause more problems that generate bad publicity for the game publishers for using it, and ruins peoples computers. I don't see other more effective copy protection strategies such as SecuROM, or SafeDisc causing these problems.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Rickler, Mar 31st, 2006 @ 11:20pm

    Woah, that's funny I was going to buy Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory tomorrow. That sucks, I really wanted the game.

    List of games that use Starforce

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    SH, Apr 1st, 2006 @ 5:11am

    There are some interesting discussions concerning this over at the
    Avault Forums

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    me, Apr 1st, 2006 @ 7:15am

    At least most the good games...

    At least most of the good games on that list are available for the PS2 or XBOX... I'll have to keep that site linked to make sure I don't buy any of the PC versions of a game thats on there.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 1st, 2006 @ 8:41am

    I lost 2 dvd drives to Ubisoft/starforce, before I figured out what was really wrong (I just assumed the drive had failed as it DID get slower at writing over time) after I put in a new high speed dual layer drive it also failed before it burned it's 25th DVD (I shoot, produce & dupe music videos for local bands)

    Ubisoft's was initally helpfull, however after many troubleshooting steps & backing them into a corner on the fact that the drives were actually damaged they decided to tell me that they never released the game with starforce on it and they had nothing to do with it, and I should contact Starforce for tech support.

    It's the _VERY_LAST_ time I EVER spend $ on a Ubisoft game.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 1st, 2006 @ 9:24am

    What worries me most is the fact that while (for example) US government apparently are publicly worried about Chinese Lenovo (Ex IBM) computers used for spying, they don't do a thing to stop Russian made Starforce to be installed to millions of computers...

    As starforce ain't any new tool, i have to conlude that: Either they don't know about the program (unlikely) or they *do*.. and the latter worries me quite a lot.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Kraki, Apr 1st, 2006 @ 10:57am

    Don't you dare restart my computer

    I understand that companies want to protect their product. Starforce is coming out with a new version soon. In this new version if it detects ANYTHING it will restart your computer, without telling you. If you've got a game with the new starforce protection installed on your computer, you're basically screwed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Elzeard, Apr 1st, 2006 @ 10:58am

    Discover & Remove StarForce

    I've only heard of this problem a bit before, but the problems described here make me nervous.
    >>> How can I tell if StarForce is on my machine? How can I remove it if it's there?
    >>>Will Un-installing a SF protected game also reverse the driver swap?

    I've mostly been playing MMO games for two years, which rely on Server-side protection and verification, so i doubt I'd have gotten StarForced recently.

    >>>How long has it been in use?
    >>>Is there a list of 'infected' games?

    I believe the answers to these questions will be helpful to the whole community.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Raven D., Apr 1st, 2006 @ 11:42am

    Hackers and Starforce

    I must interject with some of the commentary and illusions surrounding this, considering this is just more than UBI it's all companies using this and companies thinking of using it.

    To get around star force is easy and there are plenty of programs that do such things. I will not mention them here, but they are out there, the IDE thing doesn't really do it esp. on XP.

    The protection is out there due to capitolist paranoia plain and simple. Passing the buck to "Hackers" is a lame attempt to ignore responcibility on the consumer and the game companies at large. The company making starforce should be ashamed and punished for their public actions, as well as the damage caused by their software, not some silly stupid contest which they knew that no one could do.

    Consumers - Start telling these companies they are making crappy games by not buying them.

    Companies - start making games worth something more than just the simple mindless 2 - 4 hours of game play.

    Star Force - Your protection was beatin, your company needs punishment for their actions, and get over yourselves.

    In order to "Hack" the game someone has to buy it. They get their over priced buck for poor quality. If a game is good enough, you will buy it irreguardless of if you have a "hacked" copy to show your support of the product. If it's a waste as most games have been recently, with no re-playability or decent storyline, your very happy to uninstall and walk away glad you didn't waste your money.

    Saying anything more would just be long winded. I've made the point...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Elzeard, Apr 1st, 2006 @ 1:19pm

    seems to have some useful info on StarForce.

    >>> Includes list of 'infected' games.

    Few of the listed games are "Top Ten" quality; only 'King Kong' and 'Icewind Dale' seemed to be rather popular. Most of the titles were unknown to me.

    Dozens I recognized from bargain bins and Dollar stores. I did find two titles that I have bought at Big Lots for three bucks each, and I gave a big "Phew!" at the thought that I have not ever installed either of them.

    I hope most of you will find the same sense of relief from knowing you don't have that crippling driver.


    WORNG! ! ! ! !

    Gratefully, the Glop Homepage also has an easy method to discover if Starforce is installed, and Indeed I DO Have that infection.

    > > > Gratefully again, at the end of the detection routine is a link to a removal tool.

    So thats my next move.

    This kind of thing usually needs a reboot, so I'll close now, and if all goes well I'll be back here soon.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Elzeard, Apr 1st, 2006 @ 2:03pm

    And I'm back.
    The Removal Tool has removed the StarForce drivers from my Device Manager listing. I should have taken note of the file names to see if they were also erased from the drive. You will probably want to do that if you do a lot of Burning or editting from optical disk sources.

    It's worth noting that the 'Removal Tool' is from the same folks that made StarForce.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Josh Tomaino, Apr 1st, 2006 @ 9:26pm

    Games played...

    I've purchased and played a variety of the games on the list using StarForce, including Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, as someone above noted that they wouldn't buy it simply because it had StarForce software on it, and I can safely say I have noticed no problems with any of the games or my computer during or after installation and gameplay.

    I think an overwhelming momentum has grown against them simply because they are fighting piracy, and doing an ok job at it- which, don't deny it, scares anyone who relies on the pirated versions of games/software.

    I didn't notice any warnings saying that that software would be installed, unless it was at the bottom of that massive end-user-license-agreement, and would have liked to have known just to know. I just really don't appreciate being force-fed piracy-protection programs wether it comes from DRM/music cd's, or PC games- I'd just like to know.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 2nd, 2006 @ 12:32am

    The problems seem to be somehow related to the motherboard/bios calling your extra raid/ide channels SCSI dhannels, even tho they are not. That's the only time I have personaly seen the drive slowdowns & destruction.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Tony, Apr 2nd, 2006 @ 1:14am

    Track Mania Nations

    I have had problems with Starforce & I'm glad someone has decided enough is enough. Starforce installed as part of Track Mania Nations game, had I not read some reviews on this game I would not have known. What’s stupid is that the game is a free download!!! I was getting software problems when using an online poker game; this would hang and cause me to loose real hands and real money. I'm sure it was Starforce as I hadn't had any problems previous to Track Mania Nations install. It should be illegal to place software like this on your computer without making you aware first!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Adam, Apr 2nd, 2006 @ 5:10am

    The should add to suite.

    They should also add; Starforce also renders
    some games unable to be played by the purchaser solely because of the protection software malfunctioning.

    Ex. Splinter Cell Demo runs on XP x64
    Splinter Cell full version does not.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 2nd, 2006 @ 8:48am

    Looks like I will be pirating Chaos Theory

    I have been waiting for the game to go down in price before buying. However, now that I know it is using star force I will probably buy it, never unwrap it and install a ripped version from the net. At least then I will have purchased it legally AND not put my computer at risk.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    Santa, Apr 2nd, 2006 @ 8:52am

    Problems for the legitimate users.

    I've had games (legally bought) using StarForce, which I could not play due to the protection system not recognising the original disc. One could of course solve this problem by downloading a no-cd/dvd crack. This solution though depends on someone to hack the game, and thus the game companies need the pirate society to help us legal customers play our games.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    mousedmofo, Apr 2nd, 2006 @ 12:40pm

    It's kinda like making it so the government won't muslims into the country illegally while instead leaving the doors open for everybody else...
    Why would you want something that doesn't benefit you at all and in addition causes damage to your computer. Ironic how capitalism turned against us from an ex communist country...

    This just makes people want to pirate more to get around having to install that crap. Of course it won't affect all computers equally fast, but eventually it will screw em all up.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    black armadillo, Apr 2nd, 2006 @ 2:44pm

    umm... right

    wow... mousedmofo that was a horrible analogy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 2nd, 2006 @ 3:50pm


    Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. identicon
    andrew non, Apr 3rd, 2006 @ 12:48am

    I've been pirating games my whole life... but its not so sinister, as a 12 yearold you dont have $60 for a game... but if everyone in the class gets one game we have tons to play...

    these days i still 'pirate'. Starforce games tend to be inferior titles, but it hasnt caused me much trouble, not does it really deter me from pirating games that use it.

    Just unplug you CD rom after you dump the image. All pirated games come with the cracks anyway.

    But b4 you flame, I always delete games i dont want to buy within 24 hours. Demos are bias. Ive bought and play retail... CS:S, battlefield2, diablo2, warcraft3 and TFT, WOW and i dont play anything else :)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. identicon
    EX, Apr 5th, 2006 @ 9:52am

    StarForce truly does denying that...

    And as for the pirating...well, I don't think of pirating as all bad...many movies and shows I have downloaded, I have boughten soon without the 'bad' copies floating around, some of these companies would never have gotten anything from me.

    So, to wrap things up, I say:
    Pirating doesn't severely damage sales(even helps in some cases), but copy protection DOES severely hurt consumers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. identicon
    Devilz_108, Apr 5th, 2006 @ 1:03pm

    PEOPLE try to send to ubisoft message about this fucker !! starforce and try to destroy this fucker starForce !!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 22nd, 2006 @ 1:31pm


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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