Hacking the DMCA
The DMCA grants too much power to copyright holders. Why can't we
use it to protect ourselves, then?
Encrypt a popular artist's MP3 file using an encryption
algorithm. Publish it, and advertise it as "A copyrighted work of
interest to popular artist fans". In the copyright
permissions, *specifically* deny anyone permission to decrypt the
file. Lay out the penalties specified under the DMCA for decrypting,
or publishing a decryption tool for the file. The DMCA doesn't
specify the strength of the encryption algorithm.
Now, obviously, the choice of encryption algorithm, heretofore
unspecified, makes all the difference in the world. If it's 128-bit
IDEA, then you can be pretty sure that nobody is going to be able to
decrypt it. If it's exclusive-or'ing the file using a short repeating
pattern of bytes, e.g. MP3, then anyone and their kid brother will be
able to decrypt it. Or even better, run it through rot13
Make sure that this file gets into search engines. Presumably
people will download this file and try to decrypt it. If you use
strong encryption, then there's no much point. If it uses a trivial
encryption algorithm, then they'll be able to have immediate access to
the contents. However, they have done so illegally.
One outcome of a trivial encryption algorithm:
- The RIAA ignores this type of file-sharing, which means that they
lose utterly and completely. Copyright is dead, and everyone just
deals with it like adults.
Of course this outcome is not likely. Did I say "not likely"? I
meant "not bloody likely". What will happen is this: The RIAA
decrypts the file, goes to court for copyright infringement. The
infringer takes them to court for violating the DMCA by decrypting the
Two cases, so four possible outcomes:
- The DMCA case loses and the copyright case loses. Obviously this
has the same effect as the RIAA doing nothing.
- The DMCA case loses and the copyright case wins. This is a
partial victory for the RIAA. It's only partial because it means
that they must forever attempt to decrypt files *before* those
files have been widely distributed. Because, once the file has
been distributed, it's been copied. Only later, once the file has
been decrypted, can they try to win a copyright case. If files
are trivially encrypted, this is easy. But if they're encrypted
in a method that requires a large but achievable amount of work,
then they must keep track of which file is which, and who
distributed it. And if files are published in a semi-anonymous
manner, this job is extremely hard.
- The DMCA case wins and the copyright case loses. This is a total
loss for the RIAA. It means that any kind of encrypted file may
be reproduced freely no matter how poor the encryption.
- The DMCA case wins and the copyright case wins. The actual
effects of this depend on the magnitude of the penalties. If DMCA
is greater than copyright, then the RIAA has in effect lost. If
copyright is greater than DMCA, the same analysis as #2 above
applies, where the DMCA case was lost.
Obviously the RIAA will take action to avoid losing:
- It could attempt to get the DMCA changed to require strong
encryption for the DMCA penalties to apply. If it did this, it
would have the movie studios working against them because of
DeCSS, which is evidently not strong since a 16-year-old Norwegian
youth was able to break it.
- It could attempt to get the DMCA changed so that decryption in the
defense of copyright is no crime. This would only matter for case
- It could attempt to stop the publication of any file with seeming
randomness in it, because that noise might contain an encrypted
message. This is obviously a difficult problem, and would have a
very hard time getting any traction in the USA, particularly when
people started posting audio messages talking about politics.
In the long run, copyright is dead.
Last modified: Mon Aug 6 17:11:05 EDT 2001