I have a number now too!

I have my own personal number: 57 5F F4 E1 E6 62 9F 1E 2D 83 27 E9 E8 1A AB B5. You can’t use my number. Even knowing it constitutes a violation of the DMCA. Don’t think I won’t sue you…

If you haven’t been following the DRM news, there has been a bit of fuss recently about whether the movie industry can own a number.

Sam over at GThing got a great response when he posted his own 128 bit private number.

I can’t believe that there are people like you who think you can copyright a number – who are you? The RIAA? No, you’re some guy named GTHING who has a BLOG!

We’re going to ignore for a moment that the issue at hand is with the movie industry, and the AACS in particular, and address the expressed concern.

Here, the angry reader appears to imply that, while the RIAA can copyright a number, a lowly blogger like Sam cannot. Sorry, kid, but the exact same law applies to music industry behemoths and lowly bloggers. If the RIAA can copyright a number, so can Sam.

Imagine being a copyright holder (instead of a stupid blogger) and how hard it would be if you couldn’t eat because a bunch of bloggers decided to make your private, copyrighted encryption key free to the world.

Sorry, kid, but the number can’t be both private and copyrighted. IANAL, but as far as I know, there are two ways to stake claim on your own number (or any other piece of proprietary information): you can either copyright it, or claim it as a trade secret.

The problem with copyrighting it is that you have to tell everyone what it is. Hence, it is no longer private. You can’t say “I’m thinking of a number between 0 and 2128… I won’t tell you what it is, but it’s copyrighted so you’d better not use it”. Copyrighting an encryption key is what we like to call a “bad idea”. Because now all the thieves, bad guys, and (gasp) customers all know how to decrypt your secret stuff.

The other option isn’t much better. You can claim that your number is a trade secret… This is Coca-Cola’s response. But the problem with a trade secret is that it’s only good as long as it’s a secret. Once everyone knows your secret, you’re outta luck. You can sue whoever let the cat out of the bag, but because you didn’t copyright it, you can’t sue people for knowing your secret.

The AACS doesn’t like what’s behind door number one or door number two, so they return to the old movie industry standby: sue anyone who possesses knowledge and/or tools that might be used for evil.

You know, I have a scanner and a printer. With those tools I can counterfeit money. I know how to commit credit card fraud, and make a pipe bomb. But the knowledge and tools I possess aren’t illegal unless I do something illegal with them.

The movie business is in need of serious reform. It’s a disease-ridden, feudalistic, failing industry. But that’s a topic for another discussion. The question here is how much will we let them abuse us? How long will we accept that a customer must be treated like a criminal? How many more lawsuits will we see where someone is sued for the potential to do wrong?

I really hope that after thinking about these things you write a full retraction with an apology to the kind people of the RIAA trying to help people like you enjoy their world more.