Greg's bite: HD content protection system hacked? (updated)
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Greg's bite: HD content protection system hacked? (updated)

By Greg Mills

The news is full of stories related to a possible hack of the copy protection system common to HDTV, Blu-Ray disks, video game disks and even iTunes music. This is not unanticipated, but much sooner than many had expected. The sky is not falling, but this is a significant issue for reasons that go well beyond the companies that have content to protect.

Copyright protection is the legal right to sue someone for "copying" your original content. Any time something is written, drawn or fixed in a tangible form, such as paper, a disk or the like, the content is automatically protected by a copyright. The person who owns the rights is the author, unless they have assigned their rights to someone else. This article is original content, but when I submit it to "MacNews" it will become the copyright property of "MacNews" due to an agreement I made with the company.

While you can sue if your content is stolen, you are entitled only to actual lost revenue that you can prove in court. You may not even get that if your proof of loss does not stand up in court, and you may well be out your attorney fees -- win or lose. If your writing, art, software or whatever content you have is registered as a copyright with the US Copyright Office the situation is dramatically changed. You are entitled to at least $100,000 or even more if you can prove further damages and your attorney fees are to be paid by the losing party, by law!

The cost of registering copyrights is just a few hundred dollars if you have it done professionally or US$40 to $60 if you do the paperwork yourself. If you note that someone has stolen your content, and you send them a letter stating that the content is your copyright, they may or may not be too concerned. If you tell them the content is a registered copyright and you intend to sic your attorney on them, you will likely get a better response. Normally, the reason for copyrighting content is to insure you get paid, not to sue someone's socks off.  

Copyright is the legal protection on original content while encryption and copy protection are the technical locks on it. The reason you don't see much bootlegging in Blu-Ray HD movies is not really the copyright; it is the electronic lock hidden in code on the disk and inside little chips in Blu-Ray players. What that hidden electronic protection system does is defeats copying a disk's content to a blank disk.  

The copy protection system on Blu-Ray disks, video game disks and the like is a much more modern encryption system than the one on the old DVDs that "DVD Jon," the hacker, broke a few a few years back. That hack broke all DVDs that used that particular encryption system. 

The more modern HD encryption system uses keys that are different for each movie, game or song, keys that are required to "unlock" its use on a Blu-Ray player. So, if the "key" is found for a certain movie, that will not allow easy copying of other HD movies. Each protected HD movie has its own key, so until that exact key is broadcast over the Internet, the copying is limited to the person who found the key.

The problem is that when the first key is found and fully understood, it is only a matter of time before the hackers of the world figure out more keys, to unlock more content. The bootleg problem under the new "different key for different movies" system is somewhat self-limiting, as it makes it much harder to really make a lot of money duplicating Blu-Ray movies when each title is its own hacking project. Hacking the copy protection hurts only one movie or game at a time. That can be big money, however, as some games and movies bring in hundred of millions of dollars. A small percentage of that is still a lot of money.

If in fact, the entire system of HD type encryption is broken, all issued Blu-Ray disk movies, video game disks and more are open for bootleggers to steal, copy and sell. All existing Blu-Ray players have chips that might not work with a new system of encryption, which would be a nightmare for everyone and really can't happen. This is not good for anyone, folks. Digital rights protection -- which has been strong at the Apple iTunes store and Apple App Store -- but weak elsewhere are proof bootlegging hurts the market place.

Back in the days when DVDs were the standard format for movies, I remember seeing bootleg DVDs copies of movies that were still running in theaters, being sold on the street in the Philippines for about $1. Will it get that bad with HD movies? I doubt it, but a shot across the bow of the industry has been fired and the hacking community is hard at work. I wish these intelligent hackers created fresh content instead of stealing the work of others. We will all pay the price of such theft. Content providers need to be paid and not have their intellectual property stolen.

(Greg Mills, is a Faux Artist in Kansas City. Formerly a new product R&D man for the paint sundry market, he holds 11 US patents. He's working on a solar energy startup, using a patent pending process of turning waste dual pane glass into thermal solar panels used to heat water. Greg writes for intellectual web sites and Mac related issues. See Greg's art web site at ; His email is )

PS: As I continue to keep up with the patter on the HD hack story disturbing comments have recently come out that a master key to the HD copy protection system has been circulating on the Internet. If this turns out to be true, the problem is much worse than what was first thought.

Another bit of information I can't confirm is that it would take a hardware key to really disable HD copy protection as there are chips in all HD Disk playing devices that would also have to be enabled by adding a card with hacked chips on it.

Standby, as this story gets more interesting but don't expect Intel to be forthcoming any time soon. Changing the content protection scheme would render millions of HD devices out of date and possibly thousands of HD movies, games and other content easy to bootleg. Not a pretty picture at all.


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