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:

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 file.

Two cases, so four possible outcomes:

  1. The DMCA case loses and the copyright case loses. Obviously this has the same effect as the RIAA doing nothing.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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:

In the long run, copyright is dead.

Russell Nelson
Last modified: Mon Aug 6 17:11:05 EDT 2001