What is this man singing about? What is that bizarre string of numbers and why is it printed on candy hearts? If you haven’t been following the recent saga of the online crusade to distribute the magic code used to crack hi-def video disks, you’ve missed a fascinating example of distributed, uncoordinated citizen action to make a political point. In other words, civil disobedience, Web 2.0-style!
It started back in February, when a someone cracked movie-playing software and extracted the short string of numbers used in the encryption scheme for Blu-ray and HD DVD discs. With this code and the right equipment, you can break into and copy hi-def video disks with wild abandon. The hacker posted the code online, and it quickly spread through tech-oriented blogs and news sites such as Slashdot and Digg. Cease-and-desist letters were sure to follow and did, but Digg faced a reader revolt when it pulled stories featuring the code and made headlines when it backed down before the (unruly, unwashed) mob.
Now, the dam has broken, the genie is out of the bottle, the horses have left the barnyard and the cliches are tripping over each other in their eagerness to describe the significance of what we’ve just seen. The fun part is the vast range of ways people have managed to work the code into online presentations that’ll be quite hard to track down and squash with a Google text search, ranging from the song above (listen for the nice bass part at the end), which has been mashed-up with lots of video presentations, to some interestingly weird still imagery. And, it seems that this initial hack has encouraged the devious to look for other ways to break hi-def’s copy protection, at least one of which may be unbeatable. Power to the people, baby it’s damn hard for censorship to survive in a world where millions of us have very tall rooftops from which to shout. And, if your business model depends on being able to control the physical copies of a digital file, you might want to think about some other ways to make money off of human creativity.