New Digital Rights Protests, Just Like The Old Ones

Digg on HDDVD "key" posts

Recently one of the keys that is used to encrypt the new high-def DVD discs was found and released online. Using this key you can decrypt the movie and put it on a computer or otherwise get around the idiotic restrictions the movie companies have put on the discs. This is obviously troubling to the movie companies since the HD encryption schemes were said to be "un-hackable". hahaha.

So this key has been floating around and the movie companies have started issuing what are called "DMCA notices" to websites printing the key. These notices are the result of a law, the DMCA, that says you can't get around restrictions on copyrighted stuff. This is a horrible law and has been used in even more horrible ways to restrict many people from doing various projects, giving speeches, etc. The notice says you have to take down the offending material and the website Digg had been fighting its users all day about them trying to post the key on the site. Finally, Digg relented and has stopped fighting its users and will not comply with the DMCA notices in this case. Good on them I say.

But what interests me about this is how similar it is to the situation a few years ago around the DVD key that was released which allowed the creation of applications to read regular DVDs, again to the chagrin of the movie industry. That also involved a released key, basically just a series of numbers, and attempts to take down the number. However, that was before the DMCA. Before the industry had a real legal tool to use to try to get people to remove this number from their website. In the DVD case, they tried and failed to use the standard copyright infringement against people, which didn't work and which backfired just as in this case as people who would have never heard or cared about the key heard about the controversy. Now that the movie industry has the DMCA though, they could have actually stopped this information from being released. That's the danger of the DMCA, it is a tool used solely to information from flowing. Has the key been found by an academic who set out to "release" it in a paper or a presentation, they could have been stopped. People like to think that information is always going to be replicated infinitely out on the net but with laws like the DMCA, the information can be stopped before it even reaches the net.

Also, with the previous DVD key release, the geek community rallied behind the release of the key. Tshirts were made with the key numbers on them, people even got tattoos of the key. Now though, the DMCA forces sites like Digg to fight its own users on this stuff. It's not like the guys at Digg were itching to rile up their users or delete stuff from their site. They had to, under the law. Even if the notices end up being bogus (as some people are saying since the key is really just a number), Digg had to remove it.

The DMCA is a gift to big media companies and serves no one but them. It stops innovation, silences speech, holds back progress, and much more. This incident should serve as yet another example of why the DMCA needs to be repealed. I hope that the big blowup about this with Digg and the many other sites involved leads to real change. Eventually the DVD key issue went away and a great many new projects and applications sprung up around DVDs. The industry will surely fight for their "right" to stop people from knowing this key so they can try to control HD-DVDs a little longer but just like with DVDs, they'll fail in spite of the new legal club they have to bludgeon people with.

Here's a good article on the DMCA notices