Illegal Colors?

23:24 Wed 02 May 2007. Updated: 23:03 18 Mar 2011
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In this entry I’m going to share a series of colored squares which it could be illegal for me to post.


The Digital Millennium Copyright Act is, and has always been, a terrible law. One of its primary clauses is to ban the publication of “copyright protection circumvention” mechanisms—that is, if a company tries to prevent their content from being copied, it’s illegal to publish the means to get around their protection. Even if that means is really simple.

Once you get to the point where numbers, especially relatively small numbers, are sufficient to transmit the knowledge required for circumvention, the inanity of this law, and the horrendous over-reach it represents, becomes very clear indeed.

The law (or its interpretation) becomes yet more absurd when applied to the internet, because not merely publishing but also linking to the “forbidden information” is illegal, as was the case with DeCSS, a very short program that could be used to remove the encryption on DVDs, versions of which could be easily represented as numbers due to their brevity. Linking to pages with DeCSS on them is considered a violation of the law

And now, the AACS Consortium has given us something even easier than DeCSS: a hexadecimal key that undoes their protection system. So their system can be undone by a sixteen-hexadecimal-digit key, and yet they’re able to sue, well, anyone who makes this key, which is just a number, “public”.

I was going to say “something’s gotta give”, but that’s not really true. The DeCSS was obscenely ridiculous, but the MPAA won that one, and I suspect they’d win this one too, regardless of whether we’re talking about colors, prime numbers, haiku, or whatever. The United States is taking one of the most amazing opportunities in history for the expansion of human knowledge, an arena where the US has a formidable lead, and butchering both that opportunity and their lead in it by kowtowing to extremely narrow (but very wealthy!) interests.

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