A State of High-Definition Denial
They all include the 32-character code that a trade group called the AACS LA has been struggling to get taken off the Web. The utter futility of that effort gave me the topic for this week's column and grist for this week's podcast (listen/subscribe/iTunes).
Now here's a little background on the broader issues at work here.
The key floating around the Web, first documented in this online forum in February, is one of a few required to unlock and play an HD DVD or Blu-Ray movie, but it's the most important one of the bunch.
The AACS LA's attempts to get this key out of sight rely on a law, Digital Millennium Copyright Act (PDF), that makes it a crime to distribute tools to circumvent copy-control measures. Does a number expressed in hexadecimal notation counts as that kind of tool? What about when it's embedded in other forms of lawful expression? And in a practical sense, nobody can remove a snippet of code from the Internet.
Just look at what happened in 2000 when the MPAA tried to stop the circulation of DeCSS, one of the first programs that could unlock a commercial DVD. The MPAA failed completely, and now you have a wide assortment of programs that can copy DVDs to your hard drive--I'm partial to HandBrake myself--allowing you to back them up or watch them on a trip without taking the actual discs.
(In 2003, I suggested that movie studios ought to take the hint and support some of the legal uses enabled by these unlicensed programs. Well, the specifications for both HD DVD and Blu-Ray allow a "managed copy" option for ripping a movie to your hard drive, although it's not enabled yet; AACS LA spokesman Michael Ayers said the current fuss over the exposed key would probably push the delivery of that back still further.)
The movie industry shouldn't fear people making copies of their own movies for personal use. It should fear widespread commercial piracy. But as the MPAA's own statistics show, that's mostly an offline and international phenomenon. The most effective response to those people who do download movies off the Internet without paying would be to offer them a legitimate service with higher quality and a better selection--but, oops, they still haven't gotten around to offering that.
At some point, I would hope that all of these facts would persuade movie studios to stop wasting their shareholders' money and the court system's time on pointless DMCA-fueled lawsuits. But I also thought that point was obvious back in 2000... and here we are today, having the same argument as ever.
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