Scaling the Low Wall

By Shamus Posted Friday Jan 26, 2007

Filed under: Rants 17 comments

It’s time for an unfocused tirade! Whoopie.

(Deep breath.)

Someone has come up with a program called BackupHDDVD, which is used to bypass the copy protection of the new HD DVD format, thus allowing people to make copies of those discs. Here is an interview with muslix64, Developer of BackupHDDVD. (Via Steven)

My favorite quote:

Thomas Mennecke: The mainstream media tends to have many labels for you, i.e. hacker, cracker, pirate, etc., in response to your efforts. What would you call yourself and what would you label your efforts?

muslix64: I’m just an upset customer. My efforts can be called “fair use enforcement”!

So the “copy protection” on HD DVDs is broken. I’m not going to be backing up DVDs anytime soon, but I am happy about this.

I own heaps of videogames, a dozen or so movies, and gigabytes of music. In all of that, I don’t have a single item of pirated material anywhere. I respect copyright holders, and I’m happy to pay up or do without. Having said that, I am enraged by the stupid, clumsy, annoying DRM I have to put up with on a regular basis. I am particularly annoyed that I can no longer create backups of the software that I buy. (At least not without trolling the sewer of Warez sites, looking for hacks and cracks.)

So media companies are trying to take away the consumer’s right to fair use by making it impossible to exercise that right.

It’s like saying “everyone is free to visit the public park”. But then some selfish idiot comes along, builds a two-foot wall around the place and gets a law passed that it is illegal to circumvent the wall. Sure, it’s legal to be in the park, but it is now illegal to enter the park, and being in the park is used as proof that you have entered it illegally.

It’s reprehensible, and I applaud the efforts of people like muslix64. Sure, pirates can and will use this compromise to help themselves to movies without paying for them. This is unfortunate, but it still isn’t a viable excuse for infringing on my rights.

The article ends with the glimmer of hope that media companies will give up on this DRM nonsense. If they spend half a decade and millions (maybe billions) of bucks rolling out a new format and we crack it within weeks, then maybe they will start to realize that this whole effort is a waste of time and money on their part. Better to tolerate low-level piracy, hunt down large-scale piracy, and leave the rest of us out of it.

(On the other hand, maybe they will take those billions to Washington and try to get some more laws passed. Actually, since they have already shown a fondness for taking that route, I don’t see what will restrain them in the future.)


From The Archives:

17 thoughts on “Scaling the Low Wall

  1. Mark says:

    I agree completely. What’s most frustrating about DRM is that it isn’t really intended to stop piracy, it’s intended to help media companies charge for different formats. What’s that? You want to listen to your wma music on an iPod? Well, you have to buy the song again to do that! Or you can just convert the file to a plain mp3 using some free utility.

    I recently read this analysis of the DRM that is built into Vista. Bottom line is that the DRM in Vista is so oppressive that it will raise the price of hardware… And since MS commands such a huge share of the market, hardware manufacturers have to comply, even though a some people (linux users, macs) don’t need the draconian hardware requirements.

    I’m a little wary of documents like that and don’t fully trust it, but if it’s true, it’s extremely frustrating. I was perfectly willing to ignore DRM back when it was just a stuffy annoyance on some games I played (but otherwise generally avoidable). But if that doc is true, it could significantly impact other areas of computer use, including the price of hardware. This is absurd.

    Well, I could go on and on about this stuff, but I’ll stop now:P

  2. AngiePen says:

    I agree, absolutely. [nod] I don’t have any pirated media either and it’s damned annoying that I’m not allowed to make backups of media I bought legally and paid for. I understand completely that the people who did the writing/programming/artwork/whatever want to be paid for their efforts; I used to work in the computer gaming industry and a huge segment of the customer population there seem to have no clue whatsoever why piracy is wrong or why they shouldn’t do it. I hang out with media fans who think, “Well, I couldn’t afford to buy it anyway so they’re not losing any income,” is a perfectly valid ethical argument in favor of pirating movies and songs. Oh, and then there’s, “Well, some of the people I give copies to end up buying legal versions.” Well, sure, that makes all of it just perfectly fine. [eyeroll]

    I do understand that there’s a lot of piracy going on and that it’s a major problem. But that’s still no excuse for punishing people who aren’t doing anything wrong. It’s as though the auto industry said, “Hey, there are a lot of car thefts so how about if everyone spends a week in prison every year?” They’re handing out convictions and punishments to everyone indiscriminately without even pretending to hold a trial.

    I agree with you that the way to go is to pursue the large-scale piracy with all vigor and to ignore the small stuff. Because no matter how it adds up (and I acknowledge that it does) it seems to me that the cost of going after the small-scale piracy is larger than the loss suffered from it, which makes it really stupid from a business POV. To say nothing of the fact that such draconian measures taken against honest customers just encourages people who were on the fence to hop off on the piracy side. After all, if they’re going to be punished anyway then why not enjoy the benefits of the crime? [sigh]



  3. eloj says:

    Gutmann’s report is highly recommended reading for sure, I only really had a problem with his take on unified drivers (won’t go into details).

    Now as for AACS (there are keys out for BluRay too, just for the record), the real fun is only now beginning. AACS features many levels of revocation, including for both player hardware (“Drive”) and software (“Host”). These schemes are quite complex and there are risks for the media companies (via AACS-LA, in using them indiscriminatingly.

    Just to show you how far these schemes go, AACS implements something called “Renewable Traitor Tracing”[0]. Basically what they can do is to create, at different points in the movie, multiple segments at that part that are all different (probably watermarked) and encrypted under different keys. Typically one device/host can only decode ONE of these possible sequences. Therefore, the AACS can, by downloading and analysing a released movie, trace what device leaked the keys that resulted in that “version” of the movie, and then revoke that devices keys.

    For more in-depth but still general overview of this, see


  4. Chaz says:

    I understand the fear of exec types, terrified by the prospect of limitless perfect copies of their expensive product being available for free. And to some extent they have been successful – casual copying of DVDs isn’t that easy, and my non-tech-savvie friends don’t bother trying. This is the low-level piracy of which you speak, but I’m not 100% convinced that they are dramatically adding to their revenue stream by stopping it. The “low-level” stuff is typically committed by the financially disadvantaged (teenagers, parents), who probably wouldn’t be spending that money anyway.

    The “high-level” stuff is the real revenue-killer, and time and time again, DRM has proved ineffective at stopping it. The outlaws will be selling their warez and HD rips regardless of the DRM on them, and the only people to suffer are innocent(ish) consumers.

    I’m certainly looking forward to the day when the execs in charge of content distribution understand that treating their customers as criminals is not productive. However, the only way this will happen if convincing dollar evidence is put in front of them, and I can’t see where such evidence will come from.

    Funnily enough, this is not the first anti-DRM rant I have read today. YOu may also enjoy

  5. eloj says:

    Just to be extremely clear; when talking about tracing and revocation for “drive” and “device” in this context, we don’t mean on an individual basis (as in “your drive in particular”), but on a manufacturer + model basis.

  6. Charles says:

    As Chaz said the place where movie companies loose the vast majority of there money is from the High-Level pirates. There is no DRM that can prevent a High-Level copy (from a DVD pressing plant) because they create a bit for bit exact copy of the disk. Which also happens to copy the DRM too, but because the player cannot tell the difference between the legit and the pirated disk so it plays just fine.

  7. Flambeaux says:

    Yes, but the DRM escalation is driven by the same inverted logic that encourages firearms control legislation. It won’t stop real criminals, but it will sure shut out the marginal and the innocent. With software it’s a PITA. With firearms it can be life and death.

    But such is the way bloated bureaucracies, whether nation-state or corporations, perpetuate themselves by stifling competition when they’ve become to unmaneuverable to survive in a genuinely competitive market.

    These technologies, by the way, are also important to the companies long-term “growth” strategy. They don’t want competition, so the consumer is encouraged (or forced) to adopt expensive, proprietary technologies in order to stifle competition.

    Despite the anti-piracy rhetoric, this is as much about intra-industry competition as it is about mythical “lost revenue”. As a financial analyst, I did lots of analysis to prove out that technology X would prove a barrier to entry for the “competition”. It was marketing that was responsible for turning a protective measure into a “hot new technology” that would “improve customers’ lives” or “recapture revenue” from “pirates”.

  8. Fieari says:

    DRM can’t work, no matter how strong it is it is fundamentally and mathematically doomed to fail, and Cory Doctorow explains it simply in this speech he delivered a while back:

    Here’s the conclusion excerpt:

    “In DRM, the attacker is also the recipient. It’s not Alice and Bob and Carol, it’s just Alice and Bob. Alice sells Bob a DVD. She sells Bob a DVD player. The DVD has a movie on it — say, Pirates of the Caribbean — and it’s enciphered with an algorithm called CSS — Content Scrambling System. The DVD player has a CSS un-scrambler.

    Now, let’s take stock of what’s a secret here: the cipher is well-known. The ciphertext is most assuredly in enemy hands, arrr. So what? As long as the key is secret from the attacker, we’re golden.

    But there’s the rub. Alice wants Bob to buy Pirates of the Caribbean from her. Bob will only buy Pirates of the Caribbean if he can descramble the CSS-encrypted VOB — video object — on his DVD player. Otherwise, the disc is only useful to Bob as a drinks-coaster. So Alice has to provide Bob — the attacker — with the key, the cipher and the ciphertext.

    Hilarity ensues.

    DRM systems are broken in minutes, sometimes days. Rarely, months. It’s not because the people who think them up are stupid. It’s not because the people who break them are smart. It’s not because there’s a flaw in the algorithms. At the end of the day, all DRM systems share a common vulnerability: they provide their attackers with ciphertext, the cipher and the key. At this point, the secret isn’t a secret anymore.”

  9. Vegedus says:

    “Better to tolerate low-level piracy, hunt down large-scale piracy, and leave the rest of us out of it.”

    I like that sentence. Hunting the low-level piracy usually just ends up creating things like starforce *shudder* and there still isn’t any way to hinder it completely, and even if there were, it would probably not raise the sales as much as they think it would.

  10. Matt says:

    At some point, whatever it is has to be de-encrypted in order to be displayed/listened to and at that point it can be intercepted
    Theyre trying to close that hole with Vista’s DRM stuff that checks all the devices are secure, and only allows DRM compatible equipment to work, but sooner or later someone’s going to get hold of their top-secret keys and crack the system open. If they get the keys that are used by a major hardware company then its all the more difficult to revoke them without bringing a massive lawsuit down on them. Of course if they don’t revoke them, theyre probably in trouble from Hollywood for allowing their stuff to be leaked

    Sooner or later the whole thing is going to go down in flames in grand style, and I will look on and laugh :D

  11. Telas says:

    Sooner or later the whole thing is going to go down in flames in grand style, and I will look on and laugh.

    *coff-coff* Sony *coff*

  12. Phlux says:

    I can’t say I really care all that much about making “backups” of media that I own. What I want to do is rip DVDs, compress them and save them on my hard drive when I travel so that I can watch movies off my harddrive and not haul around a CD wallet full of DVDs.

    I get much better battery life watching a divx or xvid encoded video on my laptop than I do by playing a DVD. Those drives suck down a lot of power, and I imagine the HD ones will use even more.

  13. Deoxy says:

    Wow – that’s SUCH a good analogy. Perfect, really. I love it.

  14. Karaden says:

    The really stupid thing about the copy protection is that the people who are doing the pirating, the distribution and what not, are tech savy enough to get around all those protections and do their thing one way or the other, so the only people it is really hurting is the actualy average run of the mill people who can’t get around the copy protection, but wouldn’t do anything with it except make a personal backup. To use the car example from earlier, its really alot more like saying ‘There are alot of car thefts out there, so how about everyone just pay $1,000 per year’ and then being unable to collect from the car theifs (if they are good enough to steal cars, they could get around paying that $1,000)

    I suppose one big reason that so many companies are trying to put out MMOs now is because it is impossable to pirate them, each account requires a unique key code, and each account -must- be online to operate, so each account can be check constantly to make sure that it is unique. Personaly I think this is a great way of dealing with the piracy issue (Steam has attempted to do something similar to this with its games by having you sign into steam to play the various games it provides, thus proving that you are the only one useing the product, since you can’t be signed in from multipul places). The only real problem is the monthly fees. I don’t think that the monthly fees should be cut out entierly, but a very small fee of about $1 or $2 should be implimented, mainly for the sake of server maintance. I could rant for hours about MMOs, but I’ll not, I’ve kind of goten of subject, so will just leave it here for now.

  15. Keldon says:

    Just as a FYI, there is a website called gamecopyworld that provides all the cracks and hacks for games but none of the pirated rubbish, allowing you to backup your games and run them with the cracks from there site :)

  16. Neri says:

    DRM fails because in order for the device to function, it has to have the key.

    Therefore, potential attackers have access to the key. It doesn’t matter how many roadblocks you place in front of that key, pirates only have to win ONCE, you have to have a 100% success rate at keeping them out.

    I don’t think even the best chess player in the world has never lost a match.

  17. Kel'Thuzad says:

    Er… you can “somewhat” pirate an MMO game. I play WOW for free, on a private server.

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