How Hollywood Can Use The Law To Force You To Upgrade Your TV

How Hollywood Can Use the Law to Force You to Upgrade Your TV

So your mum bought you a copy of Mad Max: Fury Road on Ultra HD Blu-ray for Christmas and you want to play it on your old arse non-4K TV? A line of devices from HDfury makes it possible. Or at least, it used to.

On New Year's Eve, Warner Brothers filed a complaint against LegendSky Tech Company. LegendSky owns a company that makes a number of HDfury devices. It's a peripheral that allows you to play HD material on non-HD devices. Unfortunately, it did that by stripping out the High-Bandwidth Digital Content Protection ("HDCP") that media companies put on their content.

In their complaint, Warner Bros. has two causes against the HDfury device. First, that it violates the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Second, that it falsely advertised its product as being in some way approved by Warner Bros.

On the first count, Warner Bros. contends that a stripper -- that is, a device that "strips" encryption from a data source -- is a violation of the DMCA. They also point to HDfury's own website which states, "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."

And that's largely correct. The DMCA makes it illegal to break or circumvent any protection measure copyright holders put on their work. It also makes it a crime to sell or import any device which has a primary purpose of doing that. Anything that rips a protected DVD or Blu-Ray or breaks an encrypted stream violates the DMCA.

The DMCA doesn't care if the purpose of breaking the encryption is legal. The only mechanism for recognising that there can be legal reasons to violate the DMCA prohibition is the triennial exemption process (which we've covered in depth). The exemptions allow certain people to break encryption for certain purposes. Documentary filmmakers who meet the exemptions conditions could, in theory, use the HDfury to get access to a copy of HD material for their movie.

The HDfury website goes on to say -- and this part is left out of the Warner Bros. complaint: "However many civil rights advocates say [using a stripper to remove HDCP encryption in order to use a non-HDCP-supporting monitor] violates fair use rights."

Which could be true. In 1984, the Supreme Court ruled in Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios, Inc. (AKA the "Betamax case") that using VCRs to record shows to watch later wasn't a copyright infringement and was fair use. You could make an analogous argument that using a stripper to watch something you legally have the right to see on a monitor you also own legally is also fair use. It's device shifting rather than time shifting. Of course, there was no DMCA in 1984.

That argument has been tried and has proven unsuccessful.

It is really, really hard to get around the DMCA's ant-circumvention provisions. Save an exemption, the law isn't ambiguous. And HDfury's website is right that this butts up hard against fair use, which allows people to use material without permission or payment for certain purposes. The DMCA makes it nearly impossible for people who have a legal right to a certain use by blocking access to the material. As always, the DMCA is a protector of companies that hold copyrights and not fair use.

What that means for the consumer is that there will never be a legal way to make your old TV play new media. If you get a new Blu-ray player but all you have is an old SD TV, guess what? You're not buying an HDfury to make them talk to one another. You're buying a new TV.

[Ars Technica]

Top image: HDFURY IV S Advanced Kit /



    When I read DCMA I think "not in Australia" but then again I haven't read all the fta and other agreements our bendover government has signed on my behalf so I'm not sure if DCMA is soon coming downunder.

      Pretty sure DMCA came down here under Howard. Or something close enough with our FTA.

      There has been another similar case where a Chinese company was effectively shut down by the same New York district court for breaches of the DMCA, despite the product being legal in its home jurisdiction:

    It’s a peripheral that allows you to play HD material on non-HD devices. Unfortunately, it did that by stripping out the High-Bandwidth Digital Content Protection (“HDCP”) that media companies put on their content.

    Wait a minute. What happened to the fall back when HDCP failed?

    In the early days (when there was still HD DVD), if a complete path for HDCP could be not accomplished there was a fall back. A end user could still see the content but the material was automatically downscaled to SD resolutions.

    This was supposedly there for both HD-DVD and BluRay and was decided by having a required flag (or whatever it was called then) set.

    Isn't that fall back still there or has there been a revision to HDCP that I missed?

    Last edited 06/01/16 7:52 am

    Wait, Ultra HD Blu-Rays exist now? Where, when how???

    "So your mum bought you a copy of Mad Max: Fury Road on Ultra HD Blu-ray for Christmas"

    Unlikely since it's only just been announced and yet to be released.

      Hi, question for Ms. Bellamy. In episode 2F09, when Itchy plays Scratchy's skeleton like a xylophone, he strikes that same rib twice in succession yet he produces two clearly different tones. I mean, what are we, to believe that this is some sort of a, a magic xylophone or something? Boy, I really hope somebody got fired for that blunder.

    I own several similar devices for precisely this purpose (newer media on older displays). They are easy to get from china or locally in Australia (one came from Jaycar!). They are impossible to ban because the chips they use are needed in TVs to convert encrypted content to what amounts to low voltage DVI to interface with the flat panel controller. Sigh ...

      More to the above the RealDVD case is not really relevant - I would argue no circumvention is occurring here, because HDCP chips are being used for their intended purpose (adapting encrypted content to a display device). The HDCP licence to devices makers (a contract, not the not DCMA law) does make some distinction from what I recall between internal and cabled - that is why HDFury sell a "port dongle" version which I believe is totally OK.

      Last edited 06/01/16 12:14 pm

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