Today’s post might sound a bit preachy. If it comes across that way, I’m sorry.

First, Some Jargon

This post is going t be filled with all sorts of jargon terms. So, I’m going to describe what they each mean. (I’ll be adding to this portion of the post, as I type the rest of the post. Bear with me, if I miss something along the way)

MPAA

The Motion Picture Association of America – this is a trade organisation, based in the United States of America. They oversee the MPAA rating system for films. You may have heard of them suing film pirates. This is because their other main job is to protect the owners of film related IP.

IP

Intellectual Property – Whenever a film/TV show/song/video game/whatever is created, it is said to be the Intellectual Property of the person who created it. Whenever something that is someone’s IP is copied without the IP owners consent, then it is said to have been pirated or stolen.

DCMA

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act – A US copyright law that is recognised and upheld globally. Here is a quote, directly from Wikipedia from the first line of the description of it:

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a United States copyright law that implements two 1996 treaties of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). It criminalizes production and dissemination of technology, devices, or services intended to circumvent measures (commonly known as digital rights management or DRM) that control access to copyrighted works. It also criminalizes the act of circumventing an access control, whether or not there is actual infringement of copyright itself.

[LINK]

Region Lock

A way of forcing the users/buyers of certain products into only using/buying certain products in certain geographical regions.

DVD Region Lock

The most common system of region locking is that of DVD films. A film bought in America with a region code of 1 will only play on a DVD player that has a similar region lock code. Here is an excellent image that shows all of the DVD regions (click to enlarge it in another window or tab)

This image is provided via wikimedia

Blu-Ray Region Lock

Exactly the same system as the DVD region lock, except that there are only 3 regions (A, B and C). Here is an excellent image that shows all of the Blu-Ray regions (click to enlarge it in another window or tab)

This image is provided via wikimedia

Region Locking

I’m not going to go into the politics of this. That is except to say that, in most cases this is a good system with some flaws. As one of my friends pointed out today:

If you legitimately own the Blu-Ray, it’s yours. How you watch it is your business. Regardless of what the MPAA might want people to believe, bypassing such protection is NOT illegal, so long as you’re not using it to make illegal copies.

This is, sometimes, a way of harming the legitimate consumer while letting the pirate off scot-free, and I’ll tell you why.

Legitimate-Man

Imagine a world where your favourite film is released in some digital format. You really want to purchase that film (rather, the rights to watch it whenever you want; which is what you’re actually purchasing, but we’ll keep it simple for now), and you go to your local retailer. When you get there, you’re told that the specific film is only available in America/Europe (delete as appropriate), but that the store will happily import it for you.

‘Great!’ you think, as you head home. ‘I’ll soon be able to watch that film at my house/in my underpants’ (again, delete as appropriate).

Then you realise that you can only play that specific digital format if it’s encoded in the region that was, arbitrarily, assigned to your geographical location. So, what you’ve just just ordered was a very shiny, possibly very expensive coaster in an attractive plastic case. There is nothing you can do with that specific film.

Bad Legitimate-Man

So, you head out on to The Internet and decide that you’ll figure out how to play that specific film on the equipment that you already own. Even if you have to buy some small piece of equipment, to mess with, ‘it’ll still be better than waiting to see if (which is usually the case, rather than when) this specific film is released in (your) region’ you rationalise.

According the the MPAA and the DCMA, you’ve just broken the law and become a pirate.

Let’s look again at the quote I used from the Wikipedia article on the DCMA:

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a United States copyright law that implements two 1996 treaties of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). It criminalizes production and dissemination of technology, devices, or services intended to circumvent measures (commonly known as digital rights management or DRM) that control access to copyrighted works. It also criminalizes the act of circumventing an access control, whether or not there is actual infringement of copyright itself.

[LINK]

I’ve emboldened the final sentence. This is the sentence that we need to pay attention to. Now, I don’t speak fluent “Legalese”, but I’m pretty sure that I can understand that final sentence really well:

It also criminalizes the act of circumventing an access control, whether or not there is actual infringement of copyright itself.

Translates (in my mind) to:

It is also against the law, under this specific act, to work around any access controls (copy protection or regional lock outs) for ANY media that is protected by this act (basically ANYTHING that is someone’s Intellectual Property). This is regardless of whether, by doing so, a person has infringed on any copyrights placed on that media.

Which translates (in my mind) to:

By evading the regional lock outs on a DVD or Blu-Ray, you have broken the law. Even if you haven’t made an illegal copy of that data.

Nasty, Smelly Pirate-Man

DISCLAIMER: I DO NOT CONDONE THE FOLLOWING ACTIONS, AT ALL!! THIS IS INCLUDED FOR PARODY PURPOSES

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HToRWLu0BqU]

Suppose that you’re a 21st century, digital pirate; sailing the wild, untamed, seas of The Internet, you follow none of the rules of society. Also, (if pop culture representations of you are true) you’re either a teenage male, a male in your twenties or a male in your thirties with social or mental problems; who doesn’t shower or shave very often; a drug dealer; a terrorist; a child molester; a sexual deviant; homosexual; a communist; and a rabbit.

You damned Leporidae, commy, homo, paedo, bomber, druggy, smelly, long haired, beardy-weirdy mental head you.

You don’t purchase the physical digital formats of the films you want to watch for a varying degree of shady “ethics” that you enforce with certain strange and backwards thoughts like:

Not enough of the money goes to the original actors/writers/producers/directors/grips/electricians/dentists/caterers/whoever

or

It’s too expensive to buy the DVD/Blu-Ray/whatever format. But I’m willing to pay $130 for a jacket that will degrade to the point of not being wearable within 40 seconds of taking it out of the store. Because, you know, that’s cool or whatever.

or

It’s only one person pirating one film, what kind of difference can that make?

In that case, sir, I shall set Daffy Duck on you. For you are similar to Hitler.

Hitler had a massive collection of pirated movies. That's how the Daffy Duck was able to find him and, subsequently bop him on the head with a massive mallet.

What you, actually do is browse The Internet, find your favourite/most convenient film download website and hit “Download now.” In a few minutes (dependant on your connection), you’ll have a copy of the film/whatever in whatever format you want, to use forever.

All this without having to think about the regional lock outs of the physical format, or other things that we denziens of the mortal, social and most importantly REAL WORLD have to think about.

… Go have a shave, you hippy.

It’s. That. Simple

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l5SmrHNWhak]

DISCLAIMER: I DO NOT CONDONE THE ACTIONS IN THE ABOVE SECTION OF THE ARTICLE, AT ALL!! THIS IS INCLUDED FOR PARODY PURPOSES

Why Are You Telling Me This?

Three reasons:

  1. Using ANY device or software to read a DVD or Blu-Ray film that you shouldn’t be able to play (locked to a different region code) in your geographical region is illegal.
  2. This is not new. You should know this if you purchase or use ANY digital media.
  3. What I learned to do, today with Blu-Ray discs is illegal.

This means that products like region free DVD players, AnyDVD HD (which allows a PC to play any region locked DVD or Blu-Ray discs) and VLC player are, technically, illegal as they all are in conflict with the above quote from the DCMA.

Being a legitimate consumer (of course I expect EVERYONE to be a legit consumer ;-P ), you should be aware of this law. Chiefly because claiming that “I didn’t know it was illegal,” isn’t a valid legal stand point were you to be convicted of this type of crime.

And, believe me, there have been many who have been convicted of this crime WITHOUT EVIDENCE GIVEN TO PROVE THAT THEY EVEN PERPETRATED SAID CRIME.

What Did I Learn Today?

I’ll share this with you, but first a legal disclaimer:

The following is provided as is and for EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY. I do not condone the use of the following information for ANY criminal activity outlined in the DCMA or by the MPAA. Anyone who uses the following information for the aforementioned criminal activities severs ANY and ALL ties and responsibility to the author of the following text.

Again, this is for EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY.

If this article is found to have infringed on the activities outlined in the DCMA and by the MPAA, the author will take this article down IN IT’S ENTIRETY, should the author be contacted by the relevant authorities.

No infringement of the DCMA or of the MPAA was implied by writing the following section of the article.

Firstly, there are two types of Blu-Ray drives (for PCs, at least):

  1. Drives that store regional lock out information about the drive (which region it’s in, how many times it can change region) within the firmware of the drive (i.e. within the drive)
  2. Drives that store regional lock out information about the drive (which region it’s in, how many times it can change region) within the software¬†accompanying the drive (i.e. any Blu-Ray software that came with the drive)

As far as I’m aware, currently there is no way of changing the firmware stored information in a Blu-Ray drive. And, quite frankly, I don’t wish to know if there is, this is not something I’m interested in. However, drives that store the region lock data with the software that was bundled with the drive are stupidly simple to temporarily unlock.

And I came upon this information completely by accident. Imagine what kind of information those piracy rabbits have on Blu-Ray drives.

Yes, let's think of the *bleep*ing children?

By Accident, You Say?

I have a firewall installed on my PC that lets me know when changes are made to ANY system file – I’ve configured it to watch for hidden system files in certain areas of my hard drive, as these are often the targets for exploits in a Windows system. Admittedly, being told that a temporary file has been changed (usually what’s found in most of the hidden system areas of a Windows system – we’re talking ProgramData and the User folders in the root drive here), when your running a program, becomes tedious after a very short amount of time. That’s why I turn off notifications when running anything more than a word processor or a programming IDE.

However, I’d left it on when booting up a specific Blu-Ray Disc playback program. It turned out that this program was accessing a file called <I’m not going to name the actual file here. That WILL land me in some serious trouble> whenever I played a Blu-Ray DVD. I took a look at the file and it turns out that it contained the region lock out information of my Blu-Ray drive – including how many times I’d changed it, and how many changes I had left.

What The Hell!?

Yeah. So, I started experimenting with this file. Like any true Computer Scientist would.

FOR SCIENCE!

First, I changed the information stored within it. Then booted the program with a Blu-Ray disc inserted. Nothing changed.

Next, I looked at the processes associated with the specific Blu-Ray playback program. It turned out that there was a specific exe being loaded at start up that was part of the program’s install base. I fired up MSCONFIG, removed it from boot and restarted my PC. There where no effects on the system.

Next, I changed the information stored within the file that the program was accessing whenever I watched a Blu-Ray disc. Then booted the program with a Blu-Ray disc inserted. Lo and behold, the options related to the Blu-Ray drive had been reset to the factory settings (no default region chosen, no choices made, all 5 choices remaining).

Next, I deleted the specific file (after making a backup of it, obviously). Again, the Blu-Ray drive’s information had been reset.

What I Learned From This

  • That the Blu-Ray region lock out system, while extremely complex is incredibly simple to fool in some instances.
  • That some Blu-Ray drives are dumb (I.E that they don’t actually store the region lock out information within the firmware of the drive; which would be a, relatively, secure methodology).
  • That I should turn my firewall off more often. It’s really annoying, and could get me into a lot of trouble

Until next time stay safe, be happy and enjoy this parody of the standard “Anti Piracy Ad” that we all have to sit through when we legitimately buy a DVD, telling us that we shouldn’t then illegally download it.

J

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mCt06X2ushM]

Jamie is a .NET developer specialising in ASP.NET MVC websites and services, with a background in WinForms and Games Development. When not programming using .NET, he is either learning about .NET Core (and usually building something cross platform with it), speaking Japanese to anyone who'll listen, learning about languages, writing for this blog, or writing for a blog about Retro Gaming (which he runs with his brother)