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My wife is a speech therapist and uses a system that is designed to help people who have had strokes regain their voice.

It comprises a piece of software that comes with a "specially calibrated USB microphone". The microphone is actually a Samson laptop USB mic that had the voice improvement systems logo stuck on it.

The system came with lots of legal warnings about not copying, not telling unqualified people about how it worked and not to use an unapproved microphone. The DMCA was specifically mentioned.

One day the mic failed (the program requires patients to shout aggressively at the mic) so my wife went off looking for a replacement. We had a few USB mics that we tried and and the application refused to acknowledge their existence even though they showed up in Windows. It became obvious that the software was checking the USB device ID. My wife went to the company that ran the system to get a replacement, but they said she had to buy a new copy of the software as well - total cost $659. So we took a chance and ordered a new Samson USB mic from Amazon for €30.00, but when it arrived it didn't work. It was the same model, but was a few generations ahead and therefore had a different USB device ID. My wife has some colleagues with the same package so I tested their mics and they had different USB device IDs and it became obvious that when Samson released a revision of the mic the company offering the system simply recompiled the code with he new device ID baked in and then re-branded the mic.

So, not wanting to shell out $659 for a whole new package I took the old and new mics apart desoldered the cartridges from both mics and put the new one in the body of the failed mic. It worked! Now technically this would be a violation of 1201 in the sense that the individual copy of the software they sold you was tied to the specific mic they sold you at the same time - they said so in the EULA. But lets be honest that's just nonsense. They were simply trying to sell more stuff - a tactic that seems fairly common in various fields of professional therapy.

This is the sort of problem caused by 1201. If we lived in the US we would have been in breach of the DMCA even though we copied nothing.

Also, the software is as ugly as sin.

Would be easier to do a hex search on the binaries, find the device id of the old mic, and patch in the device id of the new mic. I'd be surprised if they had bothered to obfuscate the id in any way.

Now you mention it I feel like I overlooked the obvious solution.

Hahaha :) To each his own, I guess. I would have never thought of anything involving a soldering iron!

Good excuse to break out the soldering iron.

permanently modifying the hardware is the more portable solution. it will always work with unmodified software i.e. at a colleague's location. i presume your wife works with others that use the same platform.

>permanently modifying the hardware is the more portable solution. it will always work with unmodified software i.e. at a colleague's location.

No, as OP mentioned, the software was compiled to match the device ID of the mic it was shipped with. So it would only work with versions of the software that were the same as OP's.

I think you misinterpreted. It's the USB device ID, which contains a unique to the model ID and the vendor ID, so any software would work with any device if it has the same model ID. There isn't a such thing (at least not standardized) as a unique device ID.

I think you misinterpreted, because you repeated what I said.

>So it would only work with versions of the software that were the same as OP's

What he's saying is that there might be V1, 2 and 3 of the microphone in question. The software is tied to a single version of that microphone so any microphone of the same version is indistinguishable to the software.

>the software was compiled to match the device ID of the mic it was shipped with.

Since there isn't a "device ID", only a "Model ID", there isn't a new compiled version for everything being shipped. There's maybe 3 or 4 versions of the software total and there's probably one version that's more prolific than the others.

He may not have been able to buy one of those USB Microphones off of Amazon that had the same VID and PID but the old model that he repaired is one of the few versions that the manufacturer used so there's a pretty decent chance that the fixed one will work as is with another computer with the software on it.


Although, did you get any of the other legitimate mic's to work? Its possible that the device has a serial number burred in one of the USB descriptors and is using the mic like a hardware dongle (or worse a robust DRM scheme).

But, if you hack the binary, its probably worthwhile to spend a little extra time and completely remove the id check. That way you can use any random mic you find.

Alternatively, would be fun to get the OS to lie about the USB device ID. This would definitely be possible on Linux (probably with a kernel module, but perhaps you'd have to modify the USB core) but no idea how flexible Windows is on this kind of thing..

Should be possible with DLL injection or function hooking since I would guess they just check the USB id and then use the normal mic access functions so you would only have to intercept 1 or 2 calls.

On linux LD_PRELOAD should be enough.

I don't know whether it still works in Windows 10, but you may be able to tweak an .inf file to map the driver to the vendor ID/product ID combination (https://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/windows/hardware/ff...)

That also may require playing with settings that require drivers to be signed (http://www.alphr.com/blogs/2012/08/06/getting-older-drivers-...)

I'm wondering if that's "more illegal" than fixing the hardware component (which is silly because changing the ID can be simpler). In hardware you can just say you've replaced a broken part even if it's 99% of the hardware, right?

Won't be so easy if they obfuscate/encrypt the binaries.

Could do it live, but it's more annoying.

The same way we used to crack old games. That is how Mech Warrior on the PC fell.

They're only 16 bits though so you will get a lot of false positives.

I thought that was what he was going to do. Hopefully they didn't add too many protections on the software side.

would you simply change the part of the hex in the binary that references the mic id? I was not aware i could modify the hex directly .

Every now and then I get a compliment on my speaking, my very Irish relatives call it "the gift of the gab". What they don't know is that I grew up with a small but not insignificant speech impediment that among other things prevented me from saying most words that included the letter 'r'. I remember having to consciously blacklist words from my vocabulary because I couldn't pronounce them.

Anyways I was fortunate enough to belong to a school district that had a speech therapist who rotated through schools. After three years I had improved enough to 'graduate' and have been saying words with 'r' ever since. I haven't thought about it in years but the actions of that therapist, and of the district to provide her, have greatly effected my life.

So tell your wife thank you for what she does, and please ask her if she is aware of any philanthropic organizations where people can donate time or money to the worthy cause of speech therapy. I can only imagine all the inner city schools in America without a speech therapist, and what that must do the the kids.

I'll let her know. We live in Dublin, I'm Irish but shes from New York - but got her degree in Dallas.

She spent several years as a school district speechie in Texas so she probably knows exactly what you went through.

I also grew up with a rhotacism which I forced out of myself due to bullying. I know what you went through.

And this is WHY you should be able to do work like this because of crappy software. Fixing things that are broken should not be a crime (a microphone, a computer, a tractor) Glad to see you found a solution to someone else shortsighted software protection!

I think you should copy the USB device ID. If the software only rely on that and the mic fail again I'm pretty sure there is a way to make the software believe it's talking to the old mic with that.

I did consider that but I didn't want to take the risk of messing things up even further. I figured the cartridge exchange was a safer option.

Incidentally when I called Samson support looking to buy a specific model revision I told them what the mic was used for. When I mentioned it was for people shouting mouth open wide at the top of their voice the support rep said "But that mic is for stuff like Skype and maybe recording a little bit of singing not for shouting at".

Oh, first tier hardware support. The "Wait, our product does what?" crowd?

You repaired a broken analog component. Not a DMCA violation but I suppose it's no longer an FDA approved medical device.

You don't think this was circumventing a technical measure?

The technical measure (ID lock) was untouched.

You can lawyer it in your head how you want, but meanwhile someone can still get sued over this and have to fight it.

Could you email me with the name of the software? Thank you.

Nice try DMCA


I'm looking for potential new open source projects. Knowing about the software and its use helps me figure out if its doable (for me).

"Wow DMCA sucks, has anyone around here circumvented any technical measures for copyright protection? Tell me about it!" - Not_A_DMCA

How much does your wife charge as a therapist? Everyone needs to make money. HN is a weird place to bemoan prices when many here are seeking unicorn valuations while disrupting industry. Everyone hates laws until its in their best interest to have said laws.

She barely takes home minimum wage and she is self-employed. Most of her peers are in a similar position. It is not a vocation you get in to for the money.

Edit: A common problem in her sector, and other therapy sectors, is that all the recognised diagnosis and treatment systems get bought by the likes of Pearson and other big technical publishers who will demand recurring payments to use the system. For example Owls, a common speech therapy system requires her to use their pre-printed forms to take notes. The basic diagnosis pack costs over $700, but she has to keep buying the forms at $60 for 25 - even thought he system rarely changes.

How much do you think it'd cost to replicate the software as an open source tool? I've written grants before for funding open source projects, and this anecdote boils my blood.

Taking on Pearson and other companies that use similarly predatory tactics to extract value from society's most disadvantaged is exactly the sort of "disruption" that the world needs more of.

That said, I doubt one could go at it alone with no support or with only a grant -- building up mind share, fighting off BS patent threats, and doing enough sales to break even on these non-development costs aren't the sort of things that a government/ngo grant will typically support. And even if you could find the money, you'll still need access to a network of experts.

Someone should setup a fund that force-multiplies government/NGO grants for societally beneifical OSS with funding and access to expertise for these other things (legal/marketing/etc.). The aim could just be breaking even on non-grant-funded costs by selling support/branding/etc. to institutional players like hospitals and large chains.

I agree.

I mentioned Owls above. You wont believe what it is... just clipart in a nice easel book form. I'm not joking, its just page after page of clipart, accompanied by a manual and 20 page copyright warning booklet.

The thing is Pearson has convinced governments, schools, charities, hospitals etc that this system is the best way to diagnose speech issues. My wife and a lot of her colleagues would beg to differ.

Tangent: Pearson sells curricula to a lot of school districts. These are the people that in part control what your children learn, and what their teachers can teach.

Agree re: disruption. I've thought about this type of thing a lot, and I wish there was a way to fix the root cause instead of what I consider the symptom (dodgy overpriced software for a specific niche, especially when it targets non-technical users and/or has to do with medicine / HELPING HUMANS PHYSICALLY). I came to the conclusion that it's Very Hard to disincentivize greed. Anyone have any ideas for what could be done to help curb behavior like this by companies (companies which are really just people who are making these kinds of decisions -- never forget that)?

I’m not sure there’s any overt greed exactly. A company saw a market and launched a product for that market. But like most companies and products, especially in the case of a de facto monopoly, they’re not very good. When there’s no competition, why spend the money to innovate or improve? Your customers are still going to buy your shit.

The best way to improve the status quo on a case-by-case basis is to introduce competition, say by developing a better product, marketing it well, and basically out-predating the theretofore market predators. The marketing is easy if you can get enough momentum behind it:

“FooCorp wants to sell you these materials for $absurd. We made these better alternative materials. You can print the basic set yourself for free, or order any of our wide, high-quality selection, starting from $reasonable.”

I don’t think there is a general solution to the underlying cause, though.

Competition from the open source world perhaps.

Sounds like something Ycombinator should look at soliciting startups for.

Out of curiosity, are there effective and significantly cheaper systems in other countries outside of the US that people could purchase from? Or do they have industry associations and such eating out of their hand to mandate their use?

This is exactly the kind of thing I'd love to see China come in and drive the price down to commodity levels on.

Realistically, what kind of skillsets, experience and understanding would be required to setup and operate such a fund?

Its really simple software, essentially a VU meter.

The therapy involves getting patients to shout in a certain way and try and reach certain volume levels or follow certain volume patterns. E.g. shout gently for five seconds and gradually ramp up the volume over 10 seconds.

It would be really easy to replicate. I reckon the most time consuming part would be testing and calibration.

The whole app directory is less than 2MB.

Really, any audio editor would do.

But you should look into Max/MSP ( https://cycling74.com/products/max/ ), where you could build and bundle a simple audio app like that in minutes and have it tailored to your specific needs.

Seems like a audio program like Audacity or maybe Ardour would do the job.

Another business that does this is the hearing aid racket. An audiologist examines a patient, comes up with a patient's profile (some kind of EQ / convolution map), and then loads that into the hearing aid using proprietary programming cable and software.

There are other settings more under the preferences category than DSP, like what profiles go on what switch setting, beeps, things like that. But these are all guarded jealously.

The aids are very expensive, more than $5k, for what's now ancient tech. They've only recently gotten BT and only then at the high end, more like $8k for the BT models.

We really need open hardware and software, so home users can get an audiologist to compute their profile and then do what they want with it.

I saw this kind of predation secondhand when my maternal grandmother (I know her as “babcia”) went in for hearing aids. Her main problem was actually earwax buildup, not general hearing loss. But there’s no money in giving a patient a script for ear drops, so they managed to convince her to drop thousands in insurance dollars and no small amount of her personal dollars as well. <sigh>

But, she can hear, and she’s happy. I guess that’s how these companies get away with it—you can satisfy a customer without doing a whole lot of actual good for them.

Yes you are right, this sector is full of scam artists. See here http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/backgroundbrief...

My father who is in the age group now pretty much confirmed all of this when recently shopping for one. As it was covered by his health care they were trying to flog him one at a ridiculous price.

I wonder how different the hearing aids are from a custom IEM designed for live performances... That market is vastly more competitive.

As I understand it, the audiologist prescription includes an EQ map as well as few different types of filters for different situations: music, conversation in crowded room, 1:1 conversation, etc. Hearing impairments are not totally amplitude dips but also comprehension ones. SO I suspect aids have a few extra DSP filters available to the programmer that IEM's don't, while IEM's probably have wider range and better reproduction for the musician's taste.

Can you say a bit more about the process of writing grants for open source projects? I have some long-term education related projects that I'm considering grant funding to support. I have some ideas how to go about it, but I'd love to hear what you've done.

Yeah, this is just plain thievery from people who can least afford it.

> I've written grants before for funding open source projects

Is this a common thing? I would absolutely love to be funded to work on a bespoke open source project for such a good cause.

How does she barely make minimum wage as a speech therapist? My mother worked in the school system for 20 years making nothing. Now works in skilled nursing, people that just had strokes and other trauma learning to speak, eat, or breathe correctly again. She makes around 80k and regularly picks up side jobs at other facilities for $50+ an hour.

I have another friend from college who works in a hospital and makes 70-80k. Although there isn't much increase over the years in a hospital.

Just curious because I'm familiar with the field. Are things different in Europe?

Could a professional organization of speech therapist come together and fund a competitor? Obviously you would need to deal with the free rider problem somehow.

The "free rider" problem has been solved. Unfortunately the solution is to have ruthless for-profit businesses, which is where we're at today.

If you want to sell software that expires after two years, just do that. Sell a two year license. Don't gouge people in dishonest ways.

HN is hardly an active supporter of unicorn style VC pump and dump. We poke fun of it all the time.

This is a common criticism of HN I hear on Twitter by people who clearly don't spend much time here.

I hear much of the same. I don't think I've ever seen Snapchat mentioned here without an oogle of 40 somethings complaining about how useless and unintuitive it is.

We appreciate your defending the HN community against spurious putdowns, but adding another spurious putdown is not a great way to go about it.

I'm really apprehensive about replying to this because I don't feel like what I said was spurious (and I feel like this comment might have the same unintended message as the first) in any way when I try to recall[1] the threads[2] I've read[3] and participated[4] in. How should I less spuriously describe my experiences here?

[0] (This is only here because I wanted to make sure spurious meant "false" and not "fast or quick") http://www.dictionary.com/browse/spurious

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12039107 (2-3 negative, spurious comments about snapchat)

[2] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11075336 (about 33-33-33 of completely dismissive, completely bewildered, and then simply trying as hard as they can to explain to the previous two groups)

[3] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11778392 (I honestly didn't want to continue doing this simply to explain my perception)

[4] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9606984 (This was actually my first comment on Hacker News :) Hopefully this one won't be my last...)

edited formatting of the links

Many of your comments are great --- including this one --- but the one Dan marked off-topic was not. I don't know if it was actually off-topic, but it made a sweeping generalization and wasn't a high-quality comment. I read through the threads you linked here, and I didn't see much evidence that 40-somethings were complaining about Snapchat's interface. There were many people who were bemused and confused by it's popularity, but I didn't see any clear correlation with age.

So I think Dan was right to consider your "oogle of 40 somethings complaining about how useless and unintuitive it is" to be a spurious putdown. I think your "first" comment makes the same point about Snapchat's utility, but in a more acceptable manner. So please keep posting other comments, even controversial ones, but if possible avoid such generalizations unless they are well-supported and central to your argument.

Thanks for helping me understand both of your viewpoints. I can definitely see how that comment can be seen as spurious now and will try to avoid those sweeping generalizations.

I'm 21 and I don't get it, I don't think it's an age thing but a personality thing.

I usually feel for people getting downvoted because they speak their mind, but... No people don't have to make money this way. There are plenty of ways to make money and it is not important that she doesn't happen to make a lot, even if she made a lot, I don't think this makes any difference.

What? Why should the behavior the OP described be illegal?

This is exactly the question. Is the dmca, specifically this section valid law.

People aren't complaining about the price, they're complaining about the fucking stupid way that price is enforced and the gouging that happens when the inadequate hardware fails.

Though I don't necessarily agree with you, I'll upvote you as I think you bring up a good counterpoint that's not being discussed.

It's possible that this company's business plan assumed the replacement by obsolescence model - instead of a high upfront cost to recoup their R&D, they expected users to replace it every few years at full cost.

This is no different than the vast majority of the bait & switch type schemes the tech industry and every other market uses. If one is acceptable, I don't see why the other is not, just because a small percentage of the population on HN understands how to replace the electronic components of said hardware.

Should a chemist be able to manufacture patented pharmaceuticals in his garage simply because he/she knows the procedure? What if the drugs cost $10K a month because the company spent billions developing and marketing them? Now what if the chemist decides to make the expensive drugs for his family? And his friends. And their friends. Where does it stop?

The DMCA has been abused, but it isn't so cut and dry.

In the case of the drug, we as a society (and I use "we" very loosely here; in this case it means "mainly people who benefit directly from this opinion") have "decided" that a "person" (company) who invents a useful drug "deserves" to gain tons and tons of money, and operate in a way which prevents others from duplicating the drug, even if that behavior leads directly to the needless suffering of potentially millions of individuals.

In the world I want to live in, this type of thing would be given to society due to the benefits of it. "But it's an investment; how will they recoup R&D money?" some will say. My response is that we as a society should recognize that the "free market" approach here can be quite inhumane for many people and figure out a way to either publicly fund this research (and address the related problems such as fraud and embezzlement) for the benefit of everyone.

Isn't the actual research publicly funded in many cases anyway?

Yes, most actual scientific progress comes from government-funded and/or non-profit institutions. As the saying goes: socialise the losses, privatise the profits.

No customer is or should be obligated to make obeisance to a company's "sacred" business model.

this company has not taken action to enforce DMCA or any other licensing gripe with the guy, so as yet he hasn't forced to pay obeisance to anything, and he didn't, so that issue is not really on the table.

you are essentially taking the position that the company should be forced to sell its software unbundled with hardware because you would prefer it that way.

Under your logic, the unicorn Uber could be forced to provide their software independently too, why should I have to use Uber's cars if I just want to use their software for scheduling and other market clearing tasks that I want to undertake, including scheduling competitive ride sharing. My headphone broke; I didn't like my Uber driver; how dare they bundle them together.

Now, I actually believe that Uber and other unicorns should not be allowed to become unicorns the way they do because I think we could achieve the same level of innovation in the public interest without monopoly prices. But I don't attempt to get my way by sneering at people and downvoting them.

Your argument is a non-sequitur. Bunnie's lawsuit, and this guy's situation, are not about using something they haven't paid for. In fact, they are about having the full rights to use something they HAVE paid for. You, as someone off the street who would like to use Uber's software, haven't paid for that right. Nobody here is suggesting that businesses should have to sell off their proprietary systems to anyone who wants to buy them.

They didn't sue him, yes. But they did specifically mention DMCA, and that they believe what he did to be illegal. So, at the very least, it was an implied threat. Which he ignored because "<b>if</b> we lived in the US we would have been in breach of the DMCA".

I also don't see anything in that comment saying that they should be forced to decouple software from hardware. What it says is that they shouldn't be allowed to legally prohibit their users from doing said decoupling on their own, if they have the resources and the expertise to do so.

Now, this position does result in their business model being non-viable - if working around such technical restrictions is not illegal, and it's cheaper than not doing so, then there will be a market in workarounds. But I think that is fair - there's no inherent right for some arbitrary business model to be viable, so the market sorts it out. Companies can still try to make it work by utilizing more sophisticated protective schemes that require more effort to break, raising the cost of such workarounds. But if it doesn't work for them, well, they will have to look for a different business model - sell the device at a higher price, say, to mitigate losses from savvy customers that cannot be milked; or rent it out instead of selling.

As to patents and copyrights - these are, indeed, legal tools that enable specific business models. They exist because we as a society (i.e. majority consensus) believe that these are necessary to stimulate creation of certain goods that would otherwise not be created at all - so we have established them as a kind of explicit social contract. One could argue that their present form (terms, especially, and domain of applicability) is not actually agreed upon by the majority; but I think most people agree with the basic principle. They also have some important exemptions, such as fair use, which are also there to ensure a balance between keeping the business model viable, and protecting other social interests.

I don't think that a similar consensus exists with respect to DMCA protections. If you take a random person off the street, and explain them a situation that DMCA makes illegal, as the original post in this thread, the most common reaction is "WTF? This is insane". And I think it's for a good reason - DMCA doesn't really enable any business models that are uniquely suited to producing goods and services that the society needs, and that cannot be produced through any other business model. All it does is provide some opportunity for extra profit. I don't think that most people would consider extra profit for a few businesses to be sufficient justification for very heavy-handed legal restrictions that defy common sense.

look, I am in favor of open systems, right to repair, right to modify, etc. Hell, I'm in favor of the GPLv3 which puts me way to the free-open-copyleft side of 90% of HN. So yes, I am against the DMCA.

What I am objecting to in this thread is the tone of everybody that this one little anecdote concerning the bad luck of one guy with a copy protected system is somehow egregiously bad behavior on the part of one little company. It's not. It is further evidence that we could have a better system without the DMCA etc.

What I'm saying is, when I drive a car, sometimes I speed, and if I get caught, I take my ticket like a grownup, I don't start pissing and moaning about cops, The Man, how I was treated, "we shouldn't have speed limits" etc. which many people I know do. Even though I've seen a lot of bad behavior by cops, I see a lot of bad behavior by a lot of people, many of whom have jobs that I don't want myself.

This thread should be a celebration of somebody's diligent hack around some arbitrary rules. It's not a poster child for the evils of corporate ethics.

People whose blood is boiling over what happened here? I hope they don't own guns or feel like I sped past them too fast on the highway, because I think they're *.ragers, is the argument in favor of rationality I'm trying to make.

But you can still buy a car without signing up for uber.

I want to use Uber's software, just like this guy wants to use the software that came with the hardware that broke.

Look, I agree that I don't like what this company is doing. But I don't like what the unicorns are doing either. I'm arguing for consistency of viewpoint; and in terms of damage, what this company is doing is far less damaging to the economy (and I'm not referring to the damage Uber is doing to taxis, I'm in favor of that, I'm just in favor of a herd of Uber's competing, rather than a single player monopoly run by a sleazebag)

> Should a chemist be able to manufacture patented pharmaceuticals in his garage simply because he/she knows the procedure?

Yes, he should. As long as he doesn't sell the patented chemicals it should not be a violation.

As I understand it, technically, in the United States patent infringement is patent infringement; no mitigating circumstance. In the UK or Europe there's an exception for personal use.

If their business model is based on assumed replacement, then they should make that explicit when someone buys their product; tell them that they are buying X years of service. A customer has the right to know what they are agreeing to, and having a secret expiration date is not a fair business transaction.

Any business model is fine, as long as all the people involved in the transaction know what they are agreeing to. Bait and switch is NOT acceptable, and just because others do it does not make it acceptable.

If you are going to hide the fact that you expect your product to break in 2 years and the customer will have to buy a new one, then you don't get to complain if someone bypasses your business model and fixes it themselves. You can't use the law to enforce your trickery.

I wish I had enough rep to downvote you. For shame.

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