If you are not a geek, you probably have no idea what the head line for this blog post means. If I were a citizen of the United States, living in the US, I would have just broken the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) by simply having posted the following jumble of numbers and letters:
09 f9 11 02 9d 74 e3 5b d8 41 56 c5 63 56 88 c0
Why you ask… Well, that jumble of letters and numbers is the hexadecimal key needed to decrypt and watch the new HD DVDs. According to US law, because I am publishing information that could help someone circumvent copy protection software, I am breaking the DMCA. The knowledge and software tools to break the copy protection of regular DVDs has been widely known for some time now.
So why would I want to circumvent the copy protection of a HD DVD, or a DVD for that matter… unless I were a criminal wanting to steal the contents of the DVD? There are a number of reasons why:
- If I want to play a HD DVD on my laptop, there is currently no way to do it unless I circumvent the copy protection and copy the contents of the DVD on to my laptop. Currently there are very few laptops with HD DVD drives.
- If I want to play a HD DVD on my Linux computers at home I will have to circumvent the copy protection. There are no legal HD DVD players for Linux. If I want to play a HD DVD on my Linux computers I will have to use “illegal” software to do so (using the above key).
- If I want to play a HD DVD on my iPod I will have to circumvent the copy protection to do so.
- If I wanted to take a small piece of video to play as part of a class presentation (which is perfectly legal under the fair use doctrine in copyright law) I would have to break the DMCA in order to capture that little bit of video.
The copy protection built into HD DVDs severely limits how and where I can watch the movies. In the case of the iPod, I could pay for another version of the movie so I would watch it on my iPod, but I don’t really want to pay double just to watch the movie on another device. Buying multiple copies of the same movie would make the Movie Picture Association of America (MPAA) happy though; and richer. Somehow I think greed and the buying of politicians votes are part of this long and sordid story.
In any case, once the hex key had been discovered (The person who cracked the key said he did so in order to watch movies on his laptop), someone posted the key to the Digg.com social web site. Shortly after, Digg received a DMCA take down notice from lawyers representing the group who created the HD DVD encryption technology. Digg took down the posting, but it was immediately posted again, and promoted to the home page. Digg tried to take down all the postings, but by Tuesday evening they had given up. Every single page promoted to the home page of the web site had the offending key in the posting. Kevin Rose, the founder of Digg, wrote on his blog:
After seeing the hundreds of stories and reading thousands of comments, you’ve made it clear. You’d rather see Digg go down fighting than bow down to a bigger company. We hear you and effective immediately we won’t delete stories or comments containing the code and will deal with whatever the consequences might be. If we lose, then what the hell, at least we died trying.
Kevin and the Digg community know how moronic and unfair the Movie industry is behaving. Real criminals will not be stopped by the DMCA or copy protection. They only hurt people who want to have some choice in how they consume their digital content.
Canada does not yet have an equivalent to the DMCA, but it looks like it might be coming. Michael Geist, a law professor, talks about the “Canadian DMCA” which will probably be introduced in Parliament this spring, in the guise of copyright reform. Write your federal politician, and let’s make sure we don’t get our own version of a very bad law.