I am not a number, I am a free man!

So, I’d hoped to avoid it, but I realize now that I’ll look very dense if I don’t at least acknowledge it.
There’s a certain string of hexadecimal digits spreading like wildfire through the blogosphere. If you speak the incantation aloud, it casts the magic spell “Summon AACS Lawyers”, who give you a cease and desist notice.
In the event I get one, this article will disappear, and be replaced by a copy of the notice.
But here’s the various news:

  • Digg was deleting posts containing the incantation, and, as I understand it, banning users who posted it. The users rebelled, and Digg decided “T’hell with it. We’re gonna back our users.” So yay, the users win. One of those huge popular web2.0 things turned out to not just be a corporate shill masquerading as a countercultural free-for-all. Of course, if Digg gets shut down by the AACS, I kinda wonder how the users will react.
  • Google received a cease and decist letter, demanding they remove all links to the magic incantation. Google, whose motto these days has sort of drifted from “Don’t be evil” to “Don’t make waves” may well do as they’re told, but some friends of mine helpfully suggested that Google write them back demanding that they provide every single URL they want expunged.
  • The AACS is basically threatening everyone they can find. Isn’t it weird how a business model can become “Scare the hell out of your customers and try to hurt them,” for a business other than a bondage club?
  • For that matter, a business model of “Create a product consumers do not want and which does not give them any value, which, in fact, reduces the value of a product to the consumer, and then use legal threats to force them to buy it anyway,” does not sound very capitalist.
  • Ed Felten, over at Freedom To Tinker (look left) says that the AACS will probably realize this is stupid, pointless, and making them look cartoonishly evil, and will eventually give up. Though he also reminds us that, every once in a while, big businesses will sue the hell out of you for no reason other than spite.
  • Here’s a question: the root of the magic number thing is not simply that AACS claims to “own” this random number which they picked out of a hat. It’s that they claim that the number is a “circumvention technology”, which is illegal under the DMCA. See, under the DMCA, it’s not just illegal to sell a bootleg copy of something, it’s not just illegal to make a bootleg copy of something, it’s illegal to even possess any sort of device which could hypothetically be of some use in creating a bootleg copy of something — in fact, it’s illegal to even talk about how you might go about making such a device. That said, this magic number is the key which decrypts HDDVD movies. Its purpose is to allow the player to play the movie. Is using the number whose purpose it is to make the movie viewable in order to make the movie viewable really circumvention? Should I worry about the fact that I carry around the key to my house, because that key could unlock my front door?
  • In addition to the number of note, AACS claims that a number of other magic numbers are also theirs. They won’t tell us how many, and they sure as hell won’t tell us what they are. Math teachers of the world: be careful. Next time you ask your students to multiply 367 by 72, you may be unwittingly asking them to produce an illegal number.

I’m not going to post the infamous string of hex digits. And, just to be clear, we’re not talking about some kind of magical code. It’s a number. Like 7. Or 42. Or 790,815,794,162,126,871,771,506,399,625.

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