Michael Ayers, the chairman of the AACS-LA (the organization that sent hundreds of legal threats to websites that published the random 16-byte number that represented one of the keys for cracking the copy-prevention on HD-DVDs) has given an interview to the BBC in which he vows to use technical and legal means to shut down the 802,000+ websites that have reproduced the key.
Michael says that this doesn't impact free speech — that it's possible to discuss the crack and DRM in general without reproducing the key. I think he's wrong. I just taught a class at USC where we talked about this crack as part of our coursework, and part of my lesson was talking about the ease with which this information can be retrieved and spread — and how that makes anti-copying systems futile. For my students, seeing just how little information was needed to undo the AACS scheme was critical to understanding its fragility. Indeed, one of my students posted this key to the class blog to show his fellow students how trivial this was, prompting AACS to threaten me with legal action as well.
Michael also avers that AACS is not broken, because the system contains a collective punishment mechanism called "revocation," by which all the owners of players that have a compromised key can be prevented from playing new movies until they are serviced with a replacement key. But all of the movies released up to the date of the revocation are forever cracked, available for copying. And within days of the AACS revocation, a new, revocation-proof AACS crack emerged.
The companies that made AACS spent millions and years at it. The hackers who broke it did so in days, for laughs, for free. More people now know how to crack HD-DVD than own an HD-DVD player.
I like Michael — he spoke at my class last year and let us podcast his lecture — but I think he's talking out of his hat. AACS won't stop every HD movie released in stores from showing up on the net within minutes — if not seconds.
"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."
He said tracking down everyone who had published the keys was a "resource intensive exercise". A search on Google shows almost 700,000 pages have published the key.
Mr Ayers said that while he could not reveal the specific steps the group would be taking, it would be using both "legal and technical" steps to prevent the circumvention of copy protection.
"We will take whatever action is appropriate," he said. "We hope the public respects our position and complies with applicable laws."
He added that the copy protection on the HD-DVDs was "absolutely not broken".