Thursday, May 03, 2007

HD DVD DRM crack spreading

Ed Felten: AACS Plays Whack-a-Mole with Extracted Key

"The 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."

Robin Gross at IPJustice and the blogosphere and YouTube generally has been awash with comments on this story. decided to take down stories including the offending number - and it is just a hexadecimal number which can relatively easily be converted to a decimal equivalent (very roughly 1.3E37 to 2 significant figures, any lawyers reading should please note that the number in this form is totally useless to potential cirmcumventers/code breakers) - after getting a series of cease and desist letters and taking legal advice which indicated they might be held liable under the DMCA. The Digg community promptly revolted and posted hundreds of items with the offending code and then backed down and agreed to leave them on the site and hang the consequences. That is notable in itself as a potential illustration of the power of user communities in a Web 2.0 environment but...

Good luck to them with the legal fees since I can't see anything to distinguish this case from the Universal v Reimerdes case when the music industry sued Hacker 2600 for posting links to DeCSS. Everyone but the lawyers end up as losers. The crack gets widely spread, the website gets an injunction and the lawyers get paid.

The usual suspects will rightly pontificate about censorship etc. but the thing that gets me about this kind of case is that a self appointed trade body is essentially attempting to claim ownership of a number. Sure it's a big number but it's just a number and nobody should be allowed to own it or get to say who has the right to write it down and share it.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Lives of Others

Ian's been to the cinema.

"I finally got to see Oscar-winning The Lives of Others this week. It's a stark but extremely moving look at the tyranny of East Germany and its secret police, told through the story of a playwright who becomes disillusioned by this Communist paradise and the Stasi officer monitoring his loyalty to the state. The actors brilliantly portray the day-to-day life and complex moral choices of those who can never be sure whether they are being monitored and manipulated by their government.

Of particular modern relevance is the Stasi's use of psychological torture to silence dissident writers and activists — although nothing on the scale of the US in driving mad prisoners such as Jose Padilla. I left the cinema tearful at the horrors of four decades of state terror in the Deutsche Demokratische Republik, and furious that the country that did the most to end Communist misrule is now busy recreating its horrors."

Jobs and stealing great ideas

Steve Jobs explains how innovation really works.

Information Commissioner needs new powers

From the Guardian:

"The information commissioner is to propose sweeping new privacy powers today to halt the slide towards a surveillance society. Richard Thomas will tell a Commons home affairs select committee inquiry that the accelerating pace of technological change means pre-emptive action is needed to minimise the intrusion of the state and companies into the individual lives of citizens.

"Advances in technology mean that as individuals lead their lives in the 21st century they leave electronic footprints behind with the click of mouse, making a phone call, paying with a payment card, using 'joined-up' government services or just walking down a street where CCTV is in operation," Mr Thomas said.

"Our transactions are tracked, our interactions identified and our preferences profiled - all with the potential to build up an increasingly detailed and intrusive picture of how each of us lives."

The privacy safeguards he wants introduced include mandatory privacy impact statements, compulsory powers of inspection and penalties to punish flagrant breaches of data protection laws."

Access to Knowledge

Jack Balkan, in addressing the Yale A2K conference, gives a nice perspective on what our approach to intellectual property should be:

"It is not surprising that intellectual property has become central to the movement for A2K. Intellectual property is a tool of knowledge and information policy. It is one method among many others for promoting knowledge and information production and diffusion. But intellectual property can promote or inhibit access to knowledge depending on how it is designed and implemented.

Intellectual property should serve the functions of knowledge and information policy-- information production and diffusion-- and democratic culture. And not the other way around. A2K is the Boss. IP is just one of the employees.

The nations of the world need to know who is the boss...

European Court of Human Rights says that countries are entitled to a "margin of appreciation" in how they enforce European human rights law...

If a country gets a margin of appreciation in its enforcement of human rights conventions, why shouldn't it get a similar margin of appreciation in enforcing its obligations under TRIPS?

Let me let you in on a little secret. The United States has for years insisted that it complies with the Berne Convention, which, as you know, recognizes moral rights. But in the United States, we do not have moral rights doctrines. What do our trade representatives say? We say we are in compliance with Berne because our copyright law is good enough to protect moral rights under our international obligations. What do you mean good enough? That is the margin of appreciation. And this is not an isolated example of how the United States interprets international trade and IP agreements to suit its own domestic concerns.

Why shouldn’t we apply the same logic, say, to India's TRIPS-compliant patent law? India shouldn't have to write a patent law identical to every other countries in order to be TRIPS compliant.

Note that I’m not talking about exceptions and limitations that the TRIPS treaty recognizes. I'm talking about the basic doctrines of patent law in a country. Counties in the South don't have to define the basic components of patent law in exactly the same way that the United States or the European Union does. They don’t have to have exactly the same factors that U.S. patent law does. And to the extent that the factors are the same, say non-obviousness and utility-- it doesn't have to define them the same way. A country in the South could say that it wants a somewhat greater showing of non-obviousness or utility before it will recognize a patent. It can also offer different burdens of proof. It can have different procedures for registering and challenging patents. It can offer slightly different remedies. It can have slightly different defenses, justifications and excuses. In fact, with respect to every single area of substantive definition, countries can have slightly different patent, trademark and copyright laws. That is what I mean by the IP equivalent of a margin of appreciation.

You might say, is this consistent with TRIPS? Yes it is, especially if TRIPS really is about lowering barriers to international trade as opposed to just being a method of extracting rents. One reason why India might want to have higher standards for novelty and utility is that it is very good at producing generic drugs or drug delivery devices. That is its comparative advantage. As long as its patent law is similar enough to patent laws in other countries, it serves the purposes of TRIPS, which is to promote innovation by securing basic IP protection around the world.

In fact, it might actually be a good idea if India's patent law had somewhat tougher proof requirements for novelty and utility. If drug companies in the U.S. are making comparatively minor improvements on drugs simply to extend their patents and prevent competition from generics one might well decide that this doesn't really further the goals of promoting and protecting innovation. What it actually does is promote and protect rents."

Balkan's group at Yale are working on the notion of margin of appreciation and how its application in civil rights law might apply in the intellectual property arena, research it would be well worth keeping abreast of.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Gowers at Outlaw

There's a nice interview with Andrew Gowers at Outlaw.

"I think a very early insight into that issue was that the realisation that intellectual property is not like physical property contrary to what is sometimes claimed. But it is a conditional system based on establishing a balance. The balance between, on the one hand, incentives to inventors to invent and creators to create and on the other hand, being mindful of the need to preserve as much as possible the free flow of information and of economic competition. So you know aspects of intellectual property are monopolies granted for a purpose and it should be kept in proportion. There is always a risk and I saw this coming in – in some of the sort of heated debates particularly those surrounding copyright though also affecting other areas of intellectual property – of sort of polarisation, a kind of rival fundamentalisms talking past each other and generating more heat than light. And I think that you know we sought to steer a middle course based on the idea that you know we do not believe that everything should be free contrary to what some people say just because it can be free nor do we believe that intellectual property is an unalloyed good. There are – you know there must be limits to it. It must be possible for ideas to flow out into the public domain once patent protection has done its work or once copyright protection ceases."

Banning iPods to stop cheating

Schools have discovered that media players are being used for cheating in exams and have decided to ban them. Tim Dodd, executive director of The Center for Academic Integrity at Duke University, where cheating has declined over the past ten years says:

"Trying to fight the technology without a dialogue on values and expectations is a losing battle. I think there's kind of a backdoor benefit here. As teachers are thinking about how technology has corrupted, they're also thinking about ways it can be used productively."

How has Duke managed to reduce cheating then? Well they reckon it is because they and their students have created an environment where there is an expectation of academic integrity. Never underestimate the power of environmental norms. Whereas if you come at it from the opposite end by creating a set of rules which treats everyone as a cheat, the the probability is that the rules will be circumvented, bent and broken.

All five senses feed into the memory and facilitating an exam situation, for example, where kids who play music whilst studying could use that music as a memory aid in the exam without disturbing fellow students, would seem like an eminently sensible application of iPod-like gadgets. If we're really going to start integrating these technologies into our education systems we need to start thinking outside of the box of the 'ban it or they'll cheat' variety.