Boing Boing Blindness

I'm finding Cory Doctorow's rants on "owning" numbers are becoming irritating. I despise the DMCA and the organizations like the AACS that exploit it, but Cory is propagating lies whenever he talks about them copyrighting numbers or owning numbers. He's misrepresenting the legal claims made by the AACS. He's doing the very thing that we all hate when it seeps out of the think tanks, PR machines, political spin doctors and astroturf campaigns.

The piece of information that is illegal to publish is more that just a number; it is the fact that a particular number unlocks a particular protection system. If you publish the number without relating it to the protection system, then nobody can make a case against you. The number is just a number. If you do decide to publish the circumvention information, you are not breaking a copyright law that would control reproduction of that number, you are breaking a law that prohibits dissemination of that number + usage context.

Now Cory's a smart guy, so I'll assume that he's just a bit too carried away with the issue to be able to see how dishonest the "owning" numbers spin is. It's sitting right in his blind spot. I really hope that's it.


You're attacking a straw-man. I've never said that the number is copyrighted. I've said that they claim to own it, that they claim that it's illegal to propagate it, that you're not allowed to know it.

I've said that they put this forward several months after the information was widely disseminated online, long after any kind of legal action could have prevented a single act of copying. They aren't protecting themselves from copying -- indeed, they've already REVOKED that key -- they're attacking people for *knowing it*.

If you don't think that's "owning" a number, I don't know what is.


Please don't argue about what I haven't said.

You're missing the point. What is "it" in your phrase "*knowing it*"? The "it" is not the number. "It" is the piece of information I described in the post. This is a huge distance from owning a number.

I'm in full agreement with you that the actions of the AACS are despicable and that they make foolish claims to "own" a piece of information that is now irrevocably public information, but my main point is that the information they claim is not the number. You do yourself a disservice by conflating the pure number with a chunk of information that happens to include that number.

Leave the spin doctoring to the bad guys.

A simpler approach is just to take DMCA out of it.

You can't own or copyright a single english word (e.g. cardboard). If, however, you publish that word along with the information that it is the password for all of John Wellington Wells accounts online...

Now having established that, we can add the DMCA back in. You are at the very least being rude to publish a password/encryption key. DMCA says it is not only rude, it is illegal. DMCA doesn't say anything about other random text that contains the word cardboard, however.

Aside from issues of owning or not owning numbers, DMCA is obviously bad public policy. Fortunately, it is also bad policy from the perspective of the producers of copyrighted information. The biggest problem creative people have is not that everyone is stealing their material, it is that no one even knows it is there. Locking away the material just reduces the audience of people who will hear of you in the first place, and in the long run results in even lower sales.

(Note that this argument applies very effectively to writing or music; it applies less well to something requiring a huge investment, and which has an associated marketing campaign. From a market perspective, the only place DMCA might make sense is for motion picture blockbusters.... but even in that field, all the little independent productions who have no marketing budget should run screaming from the very thought of encrypting their material).