AACS Key, DMCA, etc.

May 16, 2007

I think it’s time I weighed in on this whole AACS key debacle. The whole idiocy behind the issue is astounding. And I don’t just mean from the AACS/pro-DMCA camp either. While they are the easier target, being more in the wrong than the idiots moderating Digg or the people posting the key around, the other “sides” also share some of the blame.

Allow me to explain why I think this whole thing is retarded. The key that suddenly shot to levels of infamy that made the DeCSS code issue look trivial–a 128-bit number–is actually one step in the lengthy process of decoding a Blu-Ray and HD-DVD movie (yes, videos on both new formats use the same DRM vendor) from its encoded form into an actual standards-compliant video file. Without the decrypting process, the data on the discs would not result in a video. Unfortunately for everyone, this key–one of several–is unique to batches of discs. Or at least, that was how it should have been. For some stupid reason, every Blu-Ray and HD-DVD disc manufactured before April 23, 2007 used the same key. So in effect, at the time of its discovery, the key cracked both formats, and was advertised as such.

Here’s the problem: by the time the key became popular, it was already being deprecated. So in effect, people were circulating around a key whose use was limited to certain older releases. Which meant anyone considering buying a new player because they can now either watch the movies they downloaded online, or backup their legitmate discs, would more than likely not have that functionality anyway. Only those people who own the players and more importantly, the discs, are affected. And that’s a very small subset of people indeed.

So AACS LA and the MPAA were idiots for sending out take-down notices. After all, the logical thing would be for them to go into damage control, but since the effects are limited already, all they needed to do was cut their losses, wait for the thing to blow over, increase their security measures for their future discs (like using different processing keys in a novel manner), and that would’ve been the end of the story. Instead, they had to send out takedown notices, and get several million net denizens up in arms about the whole thing.

What Digg did was also retarded. Upon receiving the takedown notice, Digg moderators started removing any stories that linked to the key. But they went a step further. Actually, they went several steps further. Digg started quietly deleting the users whom had posted the suddenly heretical stories. As word of this got around, people began noticing a connection between this action, and a recent advertising deal. That was when Digg started deleting the comments and users who even mentioned the deletions. As things grew more and more clear about what was happening, that’s when the users started to revolt. As mentioned many times before by others, had Digg simply removed the relevant stories and posted a notice saying why, the users would have vented their anger on the DMCA backers. As it was, by not simply penalizing users without an explanation, but then penalizing the users who attempted to provide an explanation–by attempting to rewrite history–they hit a nerve, and a very sensitive one at that. The rest, as they say, is history.

The users remain clueless as usual. Most people have no idea what this key is, why it’s used, and why people were up in arms about it. Most people took a look at their neighbors (or news aggregators in this case), saw that posting the key was the “in” thing to do, and jumped on the bandwagon. Worse, the bandwagon was being driven by a bunch of anti-DMCA fanatics whom had jumped at the chance to bash the DMCA without even trying to understand what the revolt was about. Thus, most people saw the issue as if it had been a simple take-down notice. Even Digg’s retraction made it appear that way. Then most people started using the wrong parts of the DMCA to defend their actions. The more intelligent ones pointed to the DRM circumvention clauses instead of the copyright clauses. But that’s not too important, as my point still remains valid for them: the revolt came about because of censorship, not because of the DMCA, even as people railed against the DMCA.

Suddenly, we hear nothing about Digg’s attempt at censorship, at rewriting history, and everything about the evils of the DMCA. Don’t get me wrong; the DMCA is a crappy piece of legislation, its spirit against the freedoms upon which the United States were built, and worded overly broad to boot. But the revolt came about as a result of Digg trying to erase the existence of the key’s presence on the site, as well as silence anyone who knew of this. And that’s far more frightening than copyrights and circumventing protection measures. Next time, there might not be a DMCA to spearhead the rally. Next time, it might be an insignificant issue, like someone’s dog dying, or something more important like a new, cheap breast cancer medicine only because they were being sponsored by a major pharmeceutical whose primary source of revenue was from breast cancer drugs (no, unless it was an outright cure, other sites might not pick it up). Digg’s current attempt failed because internet users tend to be more technologically savvy, and aware of the evils of the DMCA, were easily able to sympathize or even empathize with the people revolting. The DMCA carried this revolt, not the true crime.

And that’s why the people revolting–the people putting the hex number on t-shirts and making a big deal out of it–that’s why they’re all idiots too.

Oh, and just for fun, I wrote this, then attempted to find the “key” in what I wrote. The bolded letters represent the key. The translation I leave to the reader. Anyone trying to figure out what the bolded letters translate into however, would be considered employing circumvention measures, and hence would be commiting a crime under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act.



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