28th January 2013 at 17:00 UTC
It looks like Ground Environment X developer signed up to our support forum and while hiding his true identity, attempted to scare users from porting GEX to Prepar3D by spreading a made-up story about a “problem” he got into.
Few days ago member “DAR” appeared on our support forum, saying that his Ground Environment X key was revoked because he tried to install GEX to Prepar3D. He told that he had believed that a warning posted to Flight1’s forum was just “hot air” and regretted trying to install GEX to Prepar3D. He produced an excerpt of alleged exchange with Flight1’s support where he confessed his “mistake” and Flight1 thanked him “for being honest”. We made a statement about the warning and new practices we had just learned about to our website, you can find it below. This all happened during a lengthy conversation over the legality of revoking keys of users who are by our legal analysis acting within their rights. However, this does not matter in the context of what happened next.
After the discussion concluded with an insult from DAR, we decided to look up who he was. As a matter of convenience, we don’t require users of support services to provide order numbers or any other proofs of purchase, since Migration Tool’s protection hasn’t been cracked and there should be no unauthorized copies anywhere.
We googled the email address DAR signed up to the forum with. For years, it has been included in a readme of uploads to AVSIM by a person who has identical name with a developer of GEX. There is no way to sign up with someone else’s email address since posting rights are granted to users only after they verify ownership of their email by clicking on a link sent to their address. Only a person with access to the email account can do that.
We then dug further to see if we could find any other evidence linking DAR to that GEX developer. After DAR stated that his name is Darric (we found no such customer in our records) and failed to respond to our repeated requests of giving his order number, we took the IP-address his postings were coming from and ran it through Migration Tool’s activation log. From there, we found an activation key that had been used from the same IP-address.
Based on activation key, we looked up ordering information and got name, email, address and company name of the purchaser – interestingly enough, the email address used to purchase Migration Tool consisted of first name of that GEX developer and first two letters of his surname. The name on the card used did not fully match developer’s name, but the middle name and surname were identical (possibly relatives, or perhaps that’s the same person, using his middle name instead of first name in everyday life?).
We made an address lookup request of DAR’s IP-address. While it is not precise, it gave the same small town where that purchase came from, and both locations match with where the stated company is registered to. Company’s name refers to digital visual arts. However, we found no public information of that company that would allow it to be linked to GEX or Flight1.
So, in short:
- DAR took advantage of our goodwill and faked a customer in distress in an attempt to employ a tactic to instigate fear, uncertainty and doubt about using GEX on Prepar3D.
- DAR was using an email address belonging to GEX developer.
- Despite several requests, he did not disclose his order number – a first such occurrence in our practice.
- Migration Tool was activated through the same connection where DAR’s postings were coming from.
- The activation code used during activation was purchased in the name of an assumed visual digital arts company that is registered to where DAR’s postings were coming from.
- The activation code DAR used was purchased with a card issued to a person who shared the same surname and used an email address containing the first name of GEX developer.
While DAR at first didn’t even admit using the email address our tehnical logs show he used to sign up with, we approached him privately with our findings. This was either close to impossible coincidence, or our goodwill was being abused and both members of Flightsim Estonia and our customers were being manipulated with through our very own support forum.
Since DAR claimed to be some Darric and insisted that we were making a mistake, we presented him with two options:
- He admits on both our board and on Flight1’s forum that he is GEX developer, and that out of desperation he tried to emply a dirty tactic instead of challenging us through official means in a honest and civilized manner, and that he promises never to do it again. In return, we would forget that this thing happened.
- If he maintains that he is Darric and has no relationship with the person whose card was used, then we have no means of our own to pursue this thing futher and we must contact the authorities to determine if we are dealing with identity theft and credit card fraud. This would not have been our first time to experience fraud.
Alternatively, he could provide his order number (he claimed to be a customer) and within minutes we would have been able to sort out who he was. We gave him 24 hours – until 17:00 UTC January 28th.
Like a puff of smoke, DAR disappeared and we have not heard from him since.
An hour later, we got an unexpected email from that GEX developer who we had become to believe DAR actually was. Allegedly, DAR was his misguided “grandson”, who also takes part in the development of GEX. In addition, he claims that no GEX licenses have been revoked recently because of attempts to use it on Prepar3D.
We did not respond – mostly because every new detail to the story caught us by surprise and made us more and more amazed and paranoid.
Then we got another letter from the same developer. He asked us to remove the original statement (below) and the whole DAR’s topic on our forums. We have nothing to hide nor to be ashamed of and we will not be doing that. In fact, we locked the topic and removed posting rights (so he couldn’t edit already posted material) from DAR to preserve the topic as it is.
Not knowing what is true and how to react to the whole matter, we today contacted a person familiar with the field of forensic linguistics. We handed over a corpus of text built from DAR’s postings to support forum, and another of that developer’s postings to GEX forum. Since methods of forensic linguistics are even in general far from being absolutely trustworthy, and because neither corpus was significantly voluminous, the expert was not able to determine if both had been written by the same person. However, statistical analysis of punctuation, capitalization and other features, as well as subjective reading of both text collections led the expert to conclude that nor can it be said that they were not the same person.
This leaves us in a situation where we honestly don’t know who to trust and what to think of this fiasco, nor do we wish to jump to conclusions without having full confidence in them. This is also why we decided that the best course of action was to write a recap of the events as we experienced them, and let you decide.
But one thing is for sure – this matter smells awfully fishy.
Original statement follows:
It has been brought to our attention that Flight1 has started to revoke keys of users who try to install their Ground Environment X (GEX) to Prepar3D. They claim that porting GEX from FSX to Prepar3D is a breach of the EULA. In support of their position, they selectively cite the EULA, cherry-picking lines that suit their stance, and leaving out what goes against it.
If we take a closer look at the EULA of GEX, we find that it does not allow reverse engineering, decompilation nor disassembly of GEX:
You may not reverse engineer, decompile, or disassemble the SOFTWARE PRODUCT, except and only to the extent that such activity is expressly permitted by applicable law notwithstanding this limitation.
Still, it leaves an exception for governing laws. Do governing laws give you, the user, the right to port over independently created computer software in order to achieve interoperability between software from different publishers?
The legal analysis we ordered says they do. In case of the USA, 17 USC § 1201 (f) gives the users the right to reverse engineer (porting is a common form of it) the software as long as it was obtained legally and the purpose of reverse engineering is achieving interoperability. For example, trying to get an aicraft designed for FSX to run on Prepar3D is exactly that.
Last year, we had a brief email exchange with Flight1. They asked us to stop supporting all Flight1 products. Since they failed to produce any reasonable grounds for their demands, and based all of their arguments on an international trade agreement of which the very first article stated that it does not apply to the situation they were in, we suggested them to contact our local authorities instead of wasting our time with nonsense. If we were based in the USA, taking legal action against would probably have cost a fortune. But we are based in Estonia, a member state of the EU, and taking legal action – including the costs of translation – would’ve by our estimates needed less than $ 70.
Instead of settling a matter we could not agree upon through the legal system, which would’ve taken $ 70 and two months tops, they first threatened us, then threatened online shops selling Migration Tool (who, like us, did not cave in to Flight1’s demands), and have now out of frustration started to bully their own users by revoking their keys when they try to exercise their rights and port GEX from FSX over to Prepar3D. This is in sharp contrast with all other publishers, some of who have gone as far as to offer their own tools for porting their products from FSX to Prepar3D, or accommodated features in their products for better integration with Migration Tool.
Since we have no immediate means to stop Flight1 from bullying users of GEX and Migration Tool, we simply have to suggest staying away from a company that has gone this far to lock down their own users and leave them with no other option than to buy the same product over and over again. Vote with your wallet, and support developers and publishers who are not afraid to go an extra mile to let you enjoy their addons to the fullest, or who at least don’t stop others from doing so.
On behalf of NGO Flightsim Estonia,