Tuesday May 1, 2007 by Ed Felten
people who control AACS, the copy protection technology used on HD-DVD
and Blu-ray discs, are apparently trying to shut down websites that
publish a certain 128-bit integer. The number is apparently a
“processing key” used in AACS. Together with a suitable computer
program, the key allows the decryption of video content on most
existing HD-DVD and Blu-ray discs.
I won’t publish the key here but you can spot it all over the Web. It’s a long string starting with “09 F9″.
The key has been published on a few websites for months, but in
recent days the AACS “Licensing Authority” (AACS LA) has taken to
sending out demand letters
to websites that publish the key, claiming that the key is a
circumvention technology under the DMCA. News of these demand letters,
and the subsequent disappearance of content and whole sites from the
Net, has triggered an entirely predictable backlash, with thousands of
people reposting the key to their own sites.
The key will inevitably remain available, and AACSLA are just making
themselves look silly by trying to suppress it. We’ve seen this script
before. The key will show up on T-shirts and in song lyrics. It will be
chalked on the sidewalk outside the AACS LA office. And so on.
It’s hard to see the logic in AACS LA’s strategy here. Their end
goal is (or should be) to stop unauthorized online distribution of
high-def video files ripped from HD-DVD or Blu-ray discs. The files in
question are enormous and cumbersome to store and distribute,
containing more than a gigabyte of content. If you can’t stop
distribution of these huge files, surely there’s no hope of stopping
distribution of a little sixteen-byte key, or even of decryption
software containing the key. Whatever tactics can stop distribution of
the key should be even more effective against distribution of movies.
My guess is that AACS LA miscalculated, thinking that a few demand
letters would succeed in suppressing the key. As the key spread, it
seemed natural to continue sending letters — to do otherwise would be
an admission of defeat. Now the key is spread so widely that there’s no
point in sending any more letters.
The next question is whether AACS LA will try to sue somebody who
defied a demand letter. There’s no real strategic point to such a suit,
but even big organizations act out of spite sometimes.
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