The battle for control of your DVD

The controversy surrounding the decryption of the DVD Content Scrambling System (CSS) is quite complex. In this case, the Motion Picture Association (MPAA) and DVD Copy Control Association (DVDCCA) are the ones who are being most disingenuous and acting like spoiled brats. And although I think we should be fighting more important battles than getting the right to publish the DeCSS algorithm, code, programs, or links to any of the above, it really isn't quite as simple as that.

In case you haven't been following along, here's the nut of the DeCSS controversy. DVDs are encrypted and compressed using the Content Scrambling System. In order for a company to make and sell a DVD player, it must license the decryption scheme. Since Linux is a free operating system, there is no one to license the decryption algorithm for general use on Linux.

So, someone who wanted to play DVDs on Linux reverse-engineered the decryption scheme and made the hacked code available for use by others who run Linux.

Since then, the MPAA and CCA have been doing everything possible to get the decryption code off the Internet. Not only are they trying to intimidate those who are publishing the actual code or programs, they are going after those who simply point to such content via hyperlinks.

I am disappointed that Linux advocates are making the mistake of focusing too heavily on this as a free speech issue. This is a perfectly valid point, and the free speech battle is one that is particularly worth fighting - but the overemphasis on the free speech issue is shifting the public's attention onto something that will have no effect on the outcome of the DeCSS conflict itself.

People are allowing the MPAA and CCA to divert attention from the fact that DeCSS is not really a matter of copy protection. The MPAA and CCA are desperately trying to position this as a copy protection argument. It is not.

The scrambling algorithm compresses the data to fit on a DVD. If the hacker's goal is to decrypt the content of a DVD in order to make a copy of the movie, that hacker will instead end up with a huge amount of data that won't fit on another DVD. Granted, it is possible to encrypt the content again and fit it onto a second DVD. But if illegal copying is the goal, it is much more efficient to copy the DVD bit-for-bit.

So why is the CCA up in arms? It is possible the CCA just wants to find a way to collect a cent for every copy of Linux that is downloaded or sold, but I am having a bit of difficulty buying that explanation. First of all, it is unrealistic for the CCA to think it can assert control over a free operating system.

There is also no reason why the CCA can't make a free binary available for use with Linux in general, then collect licence fees. Better still, the CCA could cooperate with DVD drive manufacturers who want to include Linux drivers with their products, and then collect money from these drive manufacturers.

That's not what I think this is about. I would wager that the MPAA and CCA don't want to risk losing control over how DVD content is presented. For example, I have DVDs that will not allow me to skip past a number of movie previews in order to begin playing the movie I purchased. Worse, there are rumours that DVDs will one day "expire" after being used a set number of times.

If hackers have the power to decrypt the content of a DVD, they could override these features and then encrypt the altered content onto another playable DVD. That, in my view, is what these companies truly fear.

Personally, I don't think attempts to milk the public to pay multiple times for the same DVD will work. In fact, the forced previews approach the limit of what people will tolerate before they stop buying the products. And I would caution the MPAA and CCA that people will be able to defeat such schemes on Windows or the Macintosh even if they can't on Linux.

Pick your battles carefully, and be sure you're not falling into a trap. In this case, I suspect that the MPAA and the CCA are delighted that the public discussion is about free speech instead of the issues of control that really matter to these organisations.

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