AACS LA: 'A Line is Crossed'

In its first public comments since the now-mostly-useless 32-hex-digit media processing key was posted to hundreds of thousands of pages, in defiance of a decision by popular commenting site Digg, later rescinded, to remove references to the key, the head of the AACS Licensing Authority's business group told the BBC it is tracking down those responsible for all those posts, and reserves the right to take legal action against any or all of them.

"There is no intent from us to interfere with people's right to discuss copy protection," the AACS LA's Michael Ayers told BBC technology editor Darren Waters. "We respect free speech... But a line is crossed when we start seeing keys being distributed and tools for circumvention. You step outside of the realm of protected free speech then."

Ayers' comments point to the possibility of a serious legal concern that could yet emerge from all the folderol over whether just saying the now-infamous hexadecimal code, which begins "09 F9...," constitutes a breach of provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Specifically, is the free communication of something that could be used in the circumvention of copyright a violation of federal law? The AACS LA's position is that it is, and that millions are violating it this very moment, some by singing the digits aloud to the tunes of hymns such as, "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God."

On the Corante technology law blog yesterday, Alan Wexelblat applauded Digg for its change of heart: “I don't think it's possible to have a clearer distinction between the old (Cartel) business model and the new (Web 2) model,” Wexelblat wrote. “The old model treats customers as enemies to be censored, sued, and publicly pilloried. The new model treats customers as valuable assets, key contributors, and policy makers.”

Whether Wexelblat intended his phrase “key contributors” as a double-entendre isn’t clear.

All this despite the fact, as Ayers confirmed, that the key in question was indeed revoked by the AACS LA. As newer HD DVD discs are distributed, revocation keys extracted from those discs by player software will cause software that uses the "09 F9" media key not to work.

For users of that software, having paid for a device that no longer functions because it was designed not to function, may be a more important issue than whether Digg stepped on the inviolable rights of individuals to post a popular sequence of hexadecimal code in their messages.

Meanwhile, Web publishers in the middle of all this mess have stopped trying to squelch the key in an attempt to comply with federal law, allowing instead for the thunderous outcry of dozens upon dozens of otherwise unoccupied users to repeat the refrains of the now-useless key sequence, until it too fizzles out as with other passing fads like the Macarena, mood rings, and disco music.

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