What are the penalties for posessing the illegal number?

An article about a key used in DVD encryption has been circulating the web lately. If you are caught with this number, what will the police really do, if anything? If I write the number on a flag, and hang it up outside my house, would I really get arrested?

Is that still going around? The AACS encryption key controversy. The Wiki article is unclear on any penalties beyond posters in the US being asked to take the information down. The article does not mention any events after 2009, so I’m not clear why this has resurfaced.

It’s kind of silly to call it an “illegal number”. There are plenty of numbers that are far more illegal, in that possession of them will get you much worse penalties. Remember, every single computer file, of any sort, is really nothing but a number.

Newer and illegaler numbers have been sighted in the vicinity of this message board! There’s only one way we can go out!

How’s that?


This particular one has a good “illegality per digit” ratio, though. It’s really quite a small number; less than the number of water molecules in a modest lake. If it were an image, it would be only 5 pixels. Sure, as you say, any computer file is technically a number, but most of these numbers are far beyond anything that exists in the universe. The number of Planck volumes in the observable universe only needs around 77 bytes to represent. A one-kilobyte file (let alone megabyte or kilobyte) can’t possibly represent a count of anything real.

Back when it was CSS, I seem to recall a fellow arrested at the gate when he returned to LA CA from China - with 10,000 chips to decode CSS.

I have a Chinese DVD player that decodes both CSS and region codes.
There is a “hidden” menu to select which features you want defeated.

(these were on eBay briefly - the same make/model was continued, but without the pirate chip.)

If the police want to arrest those who display it, have them start with these offenders.

Anyone with that number should immediately go to the police station and turn it in. Police types tend to be quite intelligent, so they should understand immediately what the number signifies and know what to do with it! :smiley:

Basically what you’re saying is there’s a difference between a string of numerals and an actual number. Which, of course, I agree, since a string doesn’t represent decimal places (or any base numerical system).

But we are talking about a numerical code or key. Which is also just a string of numbers, so Chronos does have a point.

Is it even correct to call it “illegal?” I thought that this was more of a trade secret kind of issue and would be resolved by tort rather than criminal code. (My law-fu is weak)

Note: there is no illegal number directly involved in DVD decoding. The code- yes, but nothing requiring a number. Except the code can be converted into a number.

OTOH, for HD-DVDs and Blu-Ray there are actual numbers used whose publication is possibly problematic.

In terms of “illegal” as in criminal law vs. old-fashioned copyright law (which used to be a civil matter only), there’s several laws that might apply:

  1. A criminal violation of copyright. This would have required the numbers in HD/Blue-Ray coding to have been officially copyrighted, etc. I don’t believe this was done. In the clear there. Certainly the number for a decoding program could only be copyrighted by the authors. Your code, your number.

  2. A violation of the DMCA or similar law. This outlaws evading things such as copyright protection methods.

If you post the number and the code to use that to decode something, you are in violation of the law and can be prosecuted. It appears that only those people who do this in a major way, such as selling a program to do it, get harassed. Penny-ante folk aren’t apparently worth the trouble.

OTOH, you post a tiny bit of code or something which decodes discs, then you’re going to be okay. There’s a lower limit to how much you can post before it’s considered breaking the law. Unfortunately, that lower limit, like fair use, is vague and someone might sic a lawyer after you just … because.

Was the posting of the numbers for HD-DVD such a tiny bit? At first, it seemed to be. But once the toothpaste was out of the tube, there was no going back.

So if someone posted one that has been widely distributed, the defense could argue selective prosecution.

Note that a lot of these defense strategies involve having money to pay for good lawyers. As usual, it’s a lot easier to prosecute ordinary people.

(Note that “new” numbers are required from time-to-time to decode newer Blue-Ray discs. Some have been openly published, some are still somewhat a secret.)

That’s not really my argument–a string of bytes can always be considered a number. I don’t disagree with Chronos in any technical sense. I was just giving an intuition-based counterargument, that one property of “numberness” is that it could be used to count or measure something. You can have 5 apples, a trillion dollars, or 13,256,278,887,989,457,651,018,865,901,401,704,640 atoms. But a 1-megabyte file would be a number with about 2.4 million decimal digits. There’s nothing real that the number could refer to.

There’s actually a (small) branch of philosophical mathematics called ultrafinitism which doesn’t acknowledge the existence of numbers that are too large. I don’t agree with it, but I don’t think the principle is complete nonsense. At a certain point you just have abstract mathematical objects that don’t have much connection with real-world numbers.

But there’s also a sense in which that number can’t refer to anything, either. You mentioned the number of water molecules in a lake. And yes, that is an integer… but nobody, in any sort of measurement or calculation of the number of water molecules in a lake, is going to get the value all the way to the ones place. Any number like that must necessarily have an error range, implicit or explicit, attached to it. But that makes it very much not like the “illegal number”: The magic of that number that makes it illegal would be completely gone if you so much as added or subtracted one from it.

And yes, it’s much shorter than most computer files, but that’s not really relevant, either. One can imagine a text message much shorter than that, which could still get you into a lot of hot water if sent to the wrong recipient. So in that sense, it’s not even the smallest “illegal number”.

When this whole debacle started I bought one of these T-shirts which has the actual lines of written code that decrypts DVDs. I’ve never pretended that copying DVDs or even CDs wasn’t illegal, I just like the idea that technically wearing one of these shirts out in public could supposedly be considered illegal. I remember the site I bought it off of had all kinds of crazy versions of the info for sale. Audio recordings of the lines of code being read out loud has haiku poetry etc.

I’ve never once met anyone who had the slightest idea what the text on it meant. Even when I explain it to my non-geek friends they still don’t really get it…

3.6055512755 …

I still have a shirt that has the three numbers prior to the AACS key and the three numbers after the AACS key written on it with <redacted> written where the real key should be. :slight_smile:

I didn’t say it was the shortest, just that it had a good bang/buck value (so to speak). Still–it’s only 16 characters. You’d pretty much have to text Obama “I will kill you” do to better.

And while I appreciate your point about precision, it also means that pi does not exist beyond the fifth or sixth digit :).

Or something lewd to a minor, which might be even shorter yet.

Certain uses of the number 0 (zero) are, and have always been, illegal, and always will be.

Thanks for getting me nailed for possession! :frowning: