Evading Copyright Through XOR
Monolith is an open-source program that can XOR two files together to create a third file, and -- of course -- can XOR that third file with one of the original two to create the other original file.
The website wonders about the copyright implications of all of this:
Things get interesting when you apply Monolith to copyrighted files. For example, munging two copyrighted files will produce a completely new file that, in most cases, contains no information from either file. In other words, the resulting Mono file is not "owned" by the original copyright holders (if owned at all, it would be owned by the person who did the munging). Given that the Mono file can be combined with either of the original, copyrighted files to reconstruct the other copyrighted file, this lack of Mono ownership may be seem hard to believe.
The website then postulates this as a mechanism to get around copyright law:
What does this mean? This means that Mono files can be freely distributed.
So what? Mono files are useless without their corresponding Basis files, right? And the Basis files are copyrighted too, so they cannot be freely distributed, right? There is one more twist to this idea. What happens when we use Basis files that are freely distributable? For example, we could use a Basis file that is in the public domain or one that is licensed for free distribution. Now we are getting somewhere.
None of the aforementioned properties of Mono files change when we use freely distributable Basis files, since the same arguments hold. Mono files are still not copyrighted by the people who hold the copyrights over the corresponding Element files. Now we can freely distribute Mono files and Basis files.
Interesting? Not really. But what you can do with these files, in the privacy of your own home, might be interesting, depending on your proclivities. For example, you can use the Mono files and the Basis files to reconstruct the Element files.
Clever, but it won't hold up in court. In general, technical hair splitting is not an effective way to get around the law. My guess is that anyone who distributes that third file -- they call it a "Mono" file -- along with instructions on how to recover the copyrighted file is going to be found guilty of copyright violation.
The correct way to solve this problem is through law, not technology.
Posted on March 30, 2006 at 8:07 AM • 79 Comments