Fallout from the DVD crack


— 1:32 PM on November 9, 1999

An article in USA Today details how the creators of DVD have reacted to the cracking of the format's copy protection a little over a week ago. Apparently, they have already shut down the web sites that were offering "DeCSS.exe" (the program used to strip the copy protection from DVD movies) for download, and changed the keys that were compromised so those keys won't work on any new movies that come out on DVD in the future.

I'm sure we're all aware that the first action doesn't really matter very much. If there is one overriding tenet of the Internet, it is "once it's out there, it's out there." I'm sure that for every site that's shut down or complies with requests to remove the software, a few more will spring up. I haven't bothered looking, but I'm guessing I (or anyone else) could find the program without too much trouble.

As far as the second action, one thing I find curious is the claim that the compromised keys have been changed. This earlier Wired article on the subject stated "Johansen and his two partners ... were able to guess a whole slew of other keys. So even if all future DVD movies remove the [unencrypted] key, DeCSS has a plethora of other keys to choose from." This implies that the programmers might have some keys "in reserve" that they haven't used yet. Regardless, the other question is, what happens if one of the keys belongs to a hardware (i.e. home stereo component) player rather than software? Sounds to me like a firmware upgrade for every affected player. Yuck.

Interestingly, according to the USA Today article Jack Valenti, the head of the Motion Picture Association of America, recently stated that it was "only a matter of time" before DVD was cracked. If that's more than an attempt to downplay the issue, perhaps the hardware players have some as yet unrevealed manner in which to update their keys. Time will tell, I suppose.

In my eyes this is all academic, for the time being anyway. I have a DVD-ROM drive in my computer, and thanks to a recent hard drive upgrade I actually have 9 gigs of unused space at the moment. I suppose if I wanted to I could find DeCSS, format those 9 gigs, rent a DVD and end up with a huge pirated DVD file that takes up a third of my online storage. And for all that, I could... watch the movie on my computer, on a (relatively) tiny computer monitor, with no surround sound, sitting in a computer chair. Or, I could do what I usually do when I want a new movie on DVD-- shell out a paltry $20 and just buy the damn thing. Then I could take it home and watch it on a 32" screen, with full digital surround, on my couch, in my LIVING ROOM. My favorite quote from the USA Today article was this one from Doug Pratt, publisher of the DVD-LaserDisc Newsletter: "Xerox has been around for ages, but there are still paperback books ... People are only going to copy if (DVDs) are priced out of [their price range.]"

Of course I realize that someday DVD-R drives will sell at the supermarket and blanks will be sold by the gross, but frankly that's where dual VCRs and blank videotapes are now. I don't know anyone who rents a movie at Blockbuster for $3.50 and takes the thing home to copy it onto a $2 videotape, when they can just buy a shrinkwrapped copy for $10. I'm sure there are people like that out there, and I think we need to band together and... buy them a life or something. As for me, I just wish they'd push up the release date of the damn South Park movie. I have to wait until Nov. 23 to go buy my DVD? Dammit!

 
   
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