Friday, June 01, 2007

Hacking the AACS Key (again) and Keeping Eyes on the Prize...

Once again the hacktivists are on the march, posting a new AACS key on the internet which will allow people to circumvent the copy-protection on HD DVDs. This comes right on the heels of the same thing happening with the previous encryption key that Hollywood and the MPAA were using only several weeks ago. But judging by the comments and general tone with which people are posting about the issue in cyberspace, it's vital for people to keep their eyes on the prize.

Boing Boing has a fabulous article on the timeline of the AACS saga, profiling not only the details on the posting of the key itself, but also the consequent reaction of the film industry and the user revolts that followed. However, after scouring related posts in the blogosphere this morning, it seems that the general tone with which people are discussing this is a comic sarcasm. People seem amused at the creative ways in which the encryption key keeps circulating, and are lauding the hackers who keep demonstrating the futility of the film industry's tactics, which are outright mocked with both humor and anger.

For hacktivists to live up to that title, it is crucial to remember that computer hacking is only justified and noble if it is done for ethical and legitimate purposes. Posting the HD DVD encryption key on the internet for no other reason than to be subversive and joke about it is not an act of civil disobedience, but anarchy.

What needs to be repeatedly emphasized is why posting an HD DVD encryption key actually serves the public interest and the greater good. Among these reasons are to draw attention to violations of the Fair Use Doctrine and calls for copyright reform, allowing users of non-compatible computer systems (such as Linux users) to be able to exercise those same consumer rights that Windows users do, such as making backup copies of DVDs they legally purchased, and numerous other reasons as well.

What the film and music industries try to get away with truly is ridiculous (and some argue illegal) in their use of certain copy-protection schemes. However, cracking the keys and posting them on the web can either be viewed as an anarchist method of encouraging piracy and subverting the legal system, or as a noble act of electronic civil disobedience. This is a matter of framing the issue for the mainstream public, and commentators and hacktivists ought to take the issue a little more seriously, or else they risk damaging their own cause.


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