Taking OFF the copyrights

Written by Brett Thomas

August 15, 2006 // 4:04 p.m.

Tags: #copyright #digital-douwd #off #riaa

First things first, a bit-tech disclaimer: The staff and crew of bit-tech.net do not intend to encourage nor condone the intentional infringement of copyrighted works.

With that being said, there's some interesting news on the development of a new Peer-to-Peer file system that just might hit a legal loophole in copyright law. A group by the name of Digital Douwd believes to have found a way to remove the copyright from a file without changing its contents through a slick little method of encryption. The group has named the new P2P network "OFF", for what could be "Owner-Free-Filing" or "Owner-Free-File"...a formal name has not quite been settled.

The legal and mathematical mumbo-jumbo is nearly overwhelming, but here's a crash course. If you take a file and split it up into many chunks (say, oh, 128KB), it is defined that the copyright still holds (this was tried and failed back when RAR zips were the best distribution method). Encrypt that file with a standard XOR encryption called a one-time pad cypher (more on this in a second), and the copyright still holds. BUT - and here's where the legal loophole comes in - encrypt that file a second time with something pulled straight from the user, and each individual file becomes more encryption than data - a set of random numbers which is effectively meaningless. That means the very nature of that file has changed, and you assume a copyright over it, because you put your sequence of numbers for the encryption on it.

Since the RIAA says it owns copyrights to all digital versions of media its members produce, that makes two copyright owners to the same set of data which is a legal impossibility. In this case, the copyright just falls off, and the file becomes owner-free.

The whole thing is made possible by the one-time pad cypher, which encodes the copyright chunks with a block of random numbers - those numbers can be argued to be owned by the person who strung them together, or nobody at all. But where it starts to matter is when encoded again with a one-time pad cypher pulled right from your cache - that message could theoretically be decoded to be anything, depending on what 'pad' the encrypting person hands over. It is, therefore, impossible to prove any resemblance to the original file aside from a 1 in (256^131072)^x likelihood of decryption, where x is how many 128KB files there are. With those odds, you could practically call this news story just an encrypted MP3 of Beethoven. Or, vice versa.

As mentioned, this is a crash course... there are various nuances to the maneuvering that are worth looking at in the original paper written by Cracker Jack. The theory is certainly unique and rather fascinating, though the application is untested in court. When it is, though, it should be an interesting argument - maybe I can sue Beethoven's heirs for him ripping off my news story and encrypting it into music. Hey, we're suing dead guys now, anyway, right?

Got a thought on this mathematical wizardry? Think it'll fly? Let us know your thoughts in our forums.

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