A week ago, Warner Bros. home video folks announced they would be catering to the growing number of 4K TV owners by releasing 35 recent titles — including Mad Max: Fury Road and The LEGO Movie — on ultra-HD BluRay discs. Two days later, the entertainment giant was in court, suing to stop a company from selling devices that would let users get around the digital copyright protections on these, and other, 4K titles.
For more than a decade, many content companies have been using technology known as High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP), developed and managed by an Intel subsidiary called Digital Content Protection. It’s become the industry standard, with most major studios requiring that manufacturers are HDCP compliant.
HDCP is intended to prevent wannabe content pirates from making perfect digital copies of protected video and audio files. So if you run an HDMI cable from a 4K BluRay player to some device that isn’t HDCP compatible, it shouldn’t play. We saw this a few years back with some people whose older TVs were unable to watch HBO because they either weren’t HDCP compliant or their version of the tech was out of date.
The latest version of HDCP (v 2.2) includes encryption for 4K video, and it had been relatively successful in preventing pirated 4K movies and TV shows from hitting file-sharing sites, until recently, when a number of ultra-HD titles stolen from Netflix and Amazon streams began appearing online.
Last week, both Warner Bros. and Intel’s Digital Content Protection (DCP) filed a lawsuit [PDF] against China-based LegendSky, the makers of a line of products called HDFury, which claim to allow users to get around HDCP 2.2.
Warner Bros. says this circumventing of HDCP enables users to “access copyrighted works, make and/or distribute copies of copyrighted works, create derivative works of copyrighted works, or publicly perform copyrighted works, all without the permission of the copyright owner.”
Meanwhile, DCP, which licenses the HDCP technology to some 550 different manufacturers, stands to lose business with the availability of devices that render HDCP meaningless.
Moreover, the complaint contends that HDFury devices could have a chilling effect on the entire 4K/UHD market.
“Digital Content owners will be discouraged from creating and distributing UHD content, Digital Device makers will be discouraged from manufacturing and selling devices that display UHD content, and consumers will be deprived of the benefits of UHD,” argue the plaintiffs.
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) includes provisions that effectively outlaws all but a small handful of reasons for circumventing copyright protections.
The lawsuit points to a note on the HDFury website where company seems to acknowledge that its products can be used to violate the law.
“To the letter of the law (the DMCA that is), a black box that removes the HDCP encryption to allow you to use a monitor that does not support HDCP is illegal,” read a statement on the company’s site, per the complaint.
“LegendSky knew or should have known the purpose and use of the HDFury Devices it offered to the public,” say the plaintiffs, who contend that LegendSky willfully sold illegal HDCP “strippers” for the company’s “own commercial advantage or financial gain.”
The plaintiff companies say they have sent cease-and-desist demands to LegendSky, but to no avail. They are now asking for the court to issue an injunction that would prevent the company from “importing, manufacturing, offering to the public, providing, using, or otherwise trafficking in” HDCP-circumventing devices.