When numbers becomes illegal

Monday, July 24, 2006

Numbers could be illegal to be posessed and produced? Yes. Welcome to the Information Era. Digital Rights Management Laws outlawed the creation, development, posession and distribution of softwares that could hack anti cirumvention softwares. Well, "softwares" are a set of logical instruction written by computer programmers.

A set of numbers could also be deemed illegal under the law if it can be used to crack copyright protection softwares. Its what programmers referred as " illegal prime numbers". As you can read on the link, there has yet a Court test that determines that it is really illegal. However, it is likely to be illegal as it is executable.

DRM laws are counter intuitive as information wants to be free. In order to get around the law, some people have tried to do smuggle the program through steganography, through various Internet protocols, on t-shirts and in dramatic readings, as MIDI files, as a series of haiku poems, and even as a so-called illegal prime number.

Its really a funny law isnt it?

There has to be a different treatment between posessing information and using information for illegal causes. Posessing and producing information cannot be illegal in any way as it is a form of freedom of expression as protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Article 19.

    Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Thus, I'd say that producing and distributing hacking softwares, DRM circumvention softwares or even a ways to create nuclear bombs shall not be illegal. If anyone use that information to hack something or to blow a city, that particular action "could" be illegal.

Too bad, the current laws didnt distinguish the two. Articles 13 and 14 of the DADVSI introduce a variety of criminal penalties for those working around DRM technical measures:
  • A fine up to €3,750 is applicable for those who knowingly work around a DRM technical measure for reasons other than research, if this is not done using means procured from others.
  • Prison sentences up to 6 months and/or fines up to €30,000 are applicable for those who supply others with means to work around technical measures, or who knowingly propose such means.
  • Lesser fines will be subsequently introduced by an executive decree.
When personal nanofactory becomes available in the market, people will no longer buy physical goods, but buy information (software/program) instead. As the softwares are protected by DRM, only wealthy people would be able to purchase it. Those who tried to hack the software will be punished by anti-circumvention rules. This will in turn creates inequality among mankind and prevent free market competion.

I have discussed this on the previous posts, here and here.