L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

being the maunderings of an Englishman on the Côte d'Azur

02 May 2007 Blog Home : May 2007 : Permalink

Insecurity Through Non-obscurity

The terribly smart people at the MPAA are upset with the propagation of a collection of hexadecimal digits. The digits in question are the ones in this google search and the MPAA and co are upset because these digits are the unlock processing key for most (all?) HD-DVDs produced to date. In other words knowledge of this key is a major help if you want to violate the DRM that your HD-DVD was shipped with. The MPAA were rather upset and sent a number of DMCA based desist letters to sites including Digg that had the naughty code published. I think it is fair to say that this idea backfired in a big way. The users of Digg were rather upset and managed to make the string of digits pretty much the only story you could find on Digg until the Digg management capitulated and news of their indiggnation has now spread elsewhere in cyberspace.

One suspects that a lot of people, e.g. Law Profs, are going to pontificate and lots of journalists (e.g. one Alibi Brownshirt) and other reactionaries will use this as yet another excuse for ignoring or trying to ban the Internet. All of this is basically sound and fury signifying nothing. There are two basic rules that this event illustrates:

The first is that "security through obscurity" is the grown up equivalent of hiding under the bedclothes during a thunderstorm. If the MPAA, the studios and the HD-DVD standards folks thought that having a single secret encryption key that would be in millions of products made by hundreds of manufacturers would remain secure they were, at best, kidding themselves. At worst whoever thought this would be a secure system would appear to be guilty of criminal negligence and/or stupidity.

The second rule, one that has been forgotten by the MPAA repeatedly, is that laws are only enforceable if the population at large is willing to enforce them. Laws that are not accepted tend to lead to mass protest movements, civil disobedience, and critically bring the whole body of related law into disrepute. Despite everything the MP Ass of A and its friend the RI Ass of A have tried, the general public simply does not see copyright violation and DRM cracking as anything other than something they have a right to do with products they have purchased. And the general public seems to feel that, in the spiriti of being hung for a sheep rather than a lamb, if they are being treated as potential criminals by the content vendors they might as well be actual criminals and suport other criminals.

There is a third rule that this is also likely to illustrate, the one about the coverup being worse than the crime. If the MP Ass A continue to send legal notices to sites all over the place they will make more and more people aware of how stupid the copyright laws and DRM are. From the point of view of someone like me who thinks that the major publishers abuse copyright law to the detriment of society this can only be a good thing, but I rather doubt the investors in companies like Disney or Sony will appreciate the fact that the reform to copyright that will arise was caused by the actions of the companies themselves and their proxies.

I despise l'Escroc and Vile Pin