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By Mark Bell | May 4, 2007

Over the past few days, 16 number pairs have caused an uproar across the internet. And no, I’m not talking about a return from those gibberish “Lost” numbers (give it up, “Lost” fans, no one knows what’s going on, not the writers, not you), but something the anti-piracy sect would deem far more sinister: the hexidecimal processing key for HD DVDs. Say what now!?!

What the Hell is a hexidecimal processing key?
One of the many digital rights schemes thought up by copy-protectors is the idea of all info found on a DVD or HD DVD being locked via encryption that only software or players designed specifically to play said digital media has the key for. In the case of DVDs, this code was broken about 8 years ago when a group of programmers wanted to build a software DVD player for Linux, and due to the lack of such a software being already legally available, had to backwards engineer from other on-market software players. The result? They uncovered the key necessary to open the info on any DVD, and thus, copy any DVD.

And that’s where we’re at now, with both DVD and HD DVD. Prior to the last 72 hours, HD DVD was still locked up nice-and-tight… sort of. Pirates (sorry, I giggle at even the thought of using such a term but, really, it’s easier than typing “tech geeks with too much time on their hands” all the time) had created software to allow for copying and “backing up” of HD DVD media to hard-drive, but folks were forced to use Volume Unique Keys in order to unlock their HD DVDs. Each title had a different Volume Unique Key, and if no one had uncovered it, you couldn’t back it up. As of today, however, the skeleton key of HD DVD hexidecimal processing keys was uncovered and now, using this key as the basis for all “back-up” and ripping software, you should be able to not only unlock any HD DVD on the market, but also make as many back-up copies as you’d like.

Why did this cause such an uproar? What happened?
As you can imagine, no company likes to hear that their supposed copy-protected material has now become as naked as the Emperor in his new robe. Hoping to nip the problem in the bud, the folks behind HD DVD encryption, the Advanced Access Content System Licensing Administrator, LLC (AACS LA) began sending menacing legal emails, threatening websites and anything else they could do to slow the spread of the knowledge of the exact 16 pairs in the hexidecimal processing key. The s**t really hit the fan when people started posting the numbers on audience-run, community news site

When the editors behind Digg began deleting accounts and comments from their users that contained the exact processing key, due to pressures from the AACS LA, the Digg users revolted and, through much of May 1st, 2007, Digg was covered with subtle, and not so subtle, topics and comments filled with the processing key numbers. Eventually Digg creator Kevin Rose gave in, posted the numbers himself, and let everyone know that “seeing hundreds of stories and reading thousands of comments, you’ve made it clear. You’d rather see Digg go down fighting than bow down to a bigger company. We hear you, and effective immediately we won’t delete stories or comments containing the code and will deal with whatever the consequences might be.”

Fascinating *yawn*. What does this have to do with me?
Right now, very little. As is usually the case with movie piracy, the uproar over the ability to do it far exceeds the actual number of people with computers backing up movies. Think about it, you probably didn’t even know what a hexidecimal processing key was until I explained it above. Now, how many of you would know how to use said key to create software from it? Let’s expand further:

Let’s say the software exists, how many will know how to find it (because believe me, there’s motions to legally stop the knowledge there as well)? If you find it, how do you use it? Is it worth even using? Do you have an HD DVD drive? A burner? The available harddrive space?

Anti-piracy measures involving films are predicated upon the belief that one day all movies will be as easily shared as mp3s are/were during the Napster days. The idea that anyone can copy the newest digital format is a scary one. However, as in all digital piracy matters, I submit that the average person operates under this simple equation: if effort to get digital content for free is greater than the value of purchasing said digital content, then the vast majority will purchase the digital content.

Will your aunt, who still has her clock radio blinking “12:00” and can’t figure out how the Tivo works, really going to figure out how to copy a HD DVD if it means she has to:

  1. Own, rent or download (even more steps) a copy of the HD DVD.
  2. Own a HD DVD player/burner.
  3. Own a hard-drive with enough space to back-up what could be 20gigs of digital information.
  4. Own blank HD DVDs.
  5. Have access to the necessary ripping and back-up programs, and know how to use them.
  6. Have the free time necessary to copy.

Or will she purchase a set-top HD DVD player and the newest HD DVD of her choice, which could amount to a short trip to Best Buy? Effort > cost = paying cost. Effort < cost equals piracy. What are you really getting at here?
Simply, anti-piracy groups and rights management should spend more time trying to make the purchase and sharing of digital content simpler (or less expensive) instead of chasing their tails while trying to nail a small niche of digital content copiers. Because, let’s face it, if something is worth stealing, someone will figure out a way to do it, whether it be your new TV, sports car or HD DVD content. The minute the HD DVD processing key hit the ‘net, the battle was lost, period. All told, however, the majority of the world has neither interest nor ability to take advantage of this info so… there’s not as much lost as these anti-piracy groups would lead you to believe when they’re suing a 95 year old grandmother because her grandson used her new cable modem to download a crappy copy of the latest Fall Out Boy CD.

Anti-piracy, digital content and digital rights companies: Adapt. Don’t spend all your money on legal matters, try improving the process for all and, just you watch, the money will come your way.

– Mark Bell, Editor-with-a-tech-geek-complex

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