All over the internet people are illegally listing or linking to a copyrighted HD-DVD processing key. This seemingly innocuous string of numbers allows people to crack DVDs and create pirated copies. Many pages listing the key are being linked to from sites like Reddit, Digg and Slashdot. Some websites are even selling the code on coffee mugs, t-shirts and bumper stickers. Meanwhile, legal Cease and Desist orders are being sent out to many sites demanding they take the content down. Some sites are complying while others are refusing to do so. Digg.com was in the eye of this storm over the last few days, finally folding in the face of an all-out user revolt that came when the site tried to remove links to the copyrighted code.
So, amidst all of this gleeful subversion, where is the problem? Well, beyond the obvious legal issue of copyrights, the pirated DVD industry is linked to various other forms of organized crime, from prostitution and drug sales to terrorism. By putting this continuously into the public realm, people are unwittingly undermining the very freedoms they suppose they are exercising or even defending. Terrorism is not a word to be used lightly in a post-9/11 world – we are all familiar with how that term has been used to instill fear in people, rather than promote positive foreign policies. However, there are a great many studies (as well as other evidence) demonstrating that organized criminals and terrorists are increasingly involved in piracy for a number of reasons.
"Compared to other forms of crime, DVD piracy offers criminals high returns and relatively low risk in terms of penalties. It is an attractive option for organized crime groups, who use the trade in DVD piracy to launder cash and fund other forms of crime." PiracyIsACrime.com
For legal and ethical reasons, no links to (or direct quotes from) sites that are in an uproar about issues of censorship and internet freedom are linked to from this article – virtually all such articles link to the illicit code. For readers curious about these concerns, it is easy to find references on the web (Google news or the Digg blog). However, it is well worth asking: what would those same people say if the string of numbers being circulated was the key to unlocking some part of our military defense system? What if the code in question provided access to our nuclear arsenal? In essence: what if they knew that they were compromising the security of our country by passing around a string of numbers?
These analogies are much closer to the mark than they may sound at first. Most people, of course, are not going to shed a tear for the profits lost by major Hollywood corporations. Nonetheless but it is alarming how naively people assume that DVD piracy is a victimless crime. Further, the people listing this code and refusing to remove it upon request are committing a crime, whether or not they understand the other potentially harmful consequences of their actions. Admittedly, the code was likely to circulate regardless of whether ot not this became a serious and public issue. Still, people flexing their personal liberties by displaying it over and over again (and linking to it from major social bookmarking and networking sites) are working against the very freedoms they feel compelled to protect. Sites like Digg.com seem to be heroes to many, but in reality they have simply given themselves over to mob rule. Freedom of information does not mean freedom to break the law, though you may feel free to disagree.