Hackers have struck a powerful blow against film production companies in the war on piracy. The security regime used on new generation Blu Ray and High Definition DVDs, called the "Advanced Access Control System" has been successfully hacked, and in a matter of mere days.
How the Hack Works
AACS involves a form of encryption on HD and Blu Ray DVDs. The film stored on the HD or Blu Ray DVD is encrypted, and can only be accessed by a 'key' which also stored on the DVD and read by the player. If you make a copy of the DVD, the encrypted data will be copied, but not the key. Without the key, the DVD player cannot play the film.
A hacker going by the name "Muslix64" discovered that a readable version of the key was stored on his computer's memory. Muslix64 wrote a computer program that can be used to read the version of the key stored on the computer's memory, and then applied to a copied version of a DVD so that the player can decrypt the film data.
Muslix64 made the program available on the Internet so that consumers could make back-up copies of their HD and Blu Ray DVDs, and also included some keys for popular movies that he had already obtained using the program.
Needless to say, the Hollywood powers-that-be are not happy. Vast quantities of time and money were spent developing AACS. It is highly embarrassing for it to be so easily dismantled.
Is the Hack Illegal in Australia?
The AACS works in a similar way to access control on Sony Playstations. Each involves a key (or an 'access code' in the case of a Playstation) without which the disk will not play. Neither mechanism actually prevents unauthorised copies of the film or game being made.
In 2005, the High Court ruled that mod-chips in Playstations were legal, but copyright laws have changed since then.
When the High Court looked at Playstations, it considered whether the 'access code' used on Playstation games was designed to "prevent or inhibit the infringement of copyright". It found that it wasn't, because it did not prevent an illegal copy being made. Under the new laws, the court would instead consider whether the access code or decryption key is "used in connection with the exercise of copyright". This is a much broader test. If the AACS is used in connection with the exercise of copyright then it is illegal to circumvent the AACS, and Muslix64 would be liable for copyright infringement under Australian law.
How Might the Film Studios Respond?
It is too late for the film studios to do anything about the HD and Blu Ray DVDs that are already on the market. All of those movies can be hacked using muslix64's software, notwithstanding that such activity is likely to be illegal.
In order to respond to the hack, the film studios will need to change the way the encryption key is read or stored on the computer's memory, so that it cannot be read by muslix 64's software. Article by Nathan Mattock and Hannah Petrie, Sydney.
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