November 28, 2007 | By Fred von Lohmann

Year-End 2007: Darknet Assumptions Still True

Princeton's Professor Ed Felten (full disclosure: he's an EFF board member) in a recent post on his blog reminds us that one of the core "Darknet premises" -- that DRM systems on mass media content will inevitably be broken -- continues to prove itself true. The victim this year, AACS:

We’ve been following, off and on, the steady meltdown of AACS, the encryption scheme used in HD-DVD and Blu-ray, the next-generation DVD systems. By this point, Hollywood has released four generations of AACS-encoded discs, each encrypted with different secret keys; and the popular circumvention tools can still decrypt them all. The industry is stuck on a treadmill: they change keys every ninety days, and attackers promptly reverse-engineer the new keys and carry on decrypting discs.

One thing that has changed is the nature of the attackers. In the early days, the most effective reverse engineers were individuals, communicating by email and pseudonymous form posts. Their efforts resulted in rough but workable circumvention tools. In recent months, though, circumvention has gone commercial, with Slysoft, an Antigua-based maker of DVD-reader software, taking the lead and offering more polished tools for reading and ripping AACS discs.

To many who follow DRM issues closely, this is hardly news; the regular breaking of DRM systems, followed by the steady leak of formerly-protected content into file-sharing channels, is now so common that it barely rates a mention in the tech press.

But copyright policy-makers still haven't gotten the message (hey, policy-maker: DRM does not slow piracy!!). Whether they get the message or not, this steadily mounting pile of empirical evidence continues to show that the anti-circumvention provisions of the DMCA (i.e., "thou shalt not circumvent DRM") are a failure if the goal was to impede digital infringement. At the same time, of course, the DMCA continues to be a valuable tool for rightsholders who want to use DRM to impede competition, innovation, and free speech.


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