Like Selling Napster T-Shirts

The Quick and Dirty Summary (if "Aimster" means anything to you, just skip straight to the hyperlink):

  1. With the rise of the Internet, rampant copyright violation has come to the masses. Or at least those masses wealthy enough to own computers and fast net connections.
  2. Technique A for stealing from The Man is to make a digital copy of something -- e.g. turning a CD into MP3s -- and share it with your friends.

  3. Napster's business model consists of Technique A.

  4. One way The Man keeps us under his thumb is to make Technique A harder by encrypting shit. E.g. DVDs are encoded using a scheme known as CSS, which requires a special chip in the DVD player.
  5. Hence, Technique B for stealing from The Man: crack his encryption algorithm and decrypt the shit yourself.

  6. In order to stamp out Technique B, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, duly purchased by the large media corporations, criminalized the use and distribution of "circumvention devices." That is, it's a crime to decrypt certain shit, or to tell other people how to decrypt said shit.

  7. Notwithstanding the DMCA, decrypting said shit is often pathetically easy; the canonical example being that the explanation (as that of DeCSS, the anti-CSS algorithm) fits on a T-shirt.

  8. In an effort to protect its Technique A business model from The Man, Napster has recently "blocked" certain songs from its service. It does so by removing from its index any files with titles from a particular list.

  9. Aimster seeks to extend Napster's revolutionary Technique A marketing plan to the lucrative world of AOL Instant Messaging, noted for its loose ethics.

  10. Putting two and two together, Aimster observed that Napster's blocking scheme (7) is pathetically easy to get around (6) but that the DCMA doesn't know from pathetically easy (5). Thus the "Aimster Pig Encoder," which encodes song titles by putting the first letter of each word last, like so:

    "reludeP nda ugueF in D inorM"

    Aimster then proceeds to claim that the APE constitutes an encryption scheme to prevent eavesdroppers from monitoring the files on your hard drive. And, as they say,

    "IMPORTANT WARNING: DO NOT TELL ANYONE how the Aimster Pig Encoder works. Disclosing how the Aimster Pig Encoder works may be a violation of a federal law called the DMCA and subject to up to a $500,000 fine and 5 years in prison!"

Okay. Everyone with me so far? Now, this is the point at which we all laugh very hard for a while.

I've no special love for The Man, believe you me. But there are some techniques of sticking it to him that just aren't worthy of being so described, and the APE is one of them.

To start with, Chase has noted that the relevant portion of the DMCA "doesn't protect just any encryption, just encryption controlling access to a work protected by the DMCA." So the legalities fall apart from the get-go. Which leaves the hypocrisy.

Eavesdropping. Eavesdropping. Yeah, don't want those filthy record company clowns spying on your hard drive. Looking at the titles of the files in your Napster directory. Looking over the titles of the songs you're sharing with other Napster users. The titles you're exposing to them through the Napster search engine. Which ain't no eavesdropping at all, no, never.

The Big and Bad Guys here do have one advantage (in addition to being Big), one which is not to be underestimated. Their position is internally consistent. Circumvention is bad, they say. Tight access controls will always be required, they murmur. Yes, they're willing to be a bit willfully naive about the ease of breaking their encryption when it comes time to stand up in front of the judge, but this is hardly in the same league as crying out for the pretextual protection of laws you loathe.

Put it this way. Aimster didn't even try to distrubte a DeAPE utility. The world they pretend to encourage is one in which lots of people share files over Napster, but using an uncrackable code, which is, on its face, absurd. Or, if you want to argue a bit, perhaps they're letting "legitimate" users decrypt those names, but witholding their techniques from the evil file-name spies. Which is equally ridiculous, since they don't even make a token attempt at separating the wheat from the chaff, as it were. The DVD Cabal at least had the minimal self-respect to put their decryption in a black box.

Aimster makes a case against the DMCA, perhaps, but the positive pro-Napster anti-Man pro-fair-use case gets lost in the smirky self-righteous self-congratulation.

There's evil going down out there. Property rights -- and not just intellectual property rights -- are being stolen away and replaced with paltry grudging licenses to the temporary and limited use of property rights very much reserved by aforementioned Man. Academic freedom and freedom of speech are being hunted down by the forces of profit. Tradmarks are being used to control public discussion; patents are being used to squelch technology; the market is ruthlessly trying to cut off the air supply of intellectual life.

But with enemies like Aimster, The Man hardly needs friends.

And so we come to the circumvention device.

I'm not even going to dress this up with some sort of cutesy cover story about my extensive research and my ingenious feats of reverse-engineering. To do so would be to sink to their level. The emperor has no clothes, true, but Aimster is taking advantage of the situation to go streaking, and the time has come for a little dignity.

So here we go. Bruce Willis is dead, Brad Pitt doesn't exist, Jaye Davidson is a man, Soylent Green is made out of people.

And you can decrypt a file name "encrypted" with Aimster Pig Encoder by taking the last letter of each word and placing that letter at the front of the word.

Come and get me, Aimster. Bring it.