So there’s been a bit of an uproar over the MPAA’s attempts to block the spread of their recently cracked HD-DVD Processing Key, which can be used to unlock the contents of most consumer HD-DVD titles. Quite understandably so, as it will make the choice for movie studios on which standard to adopt fairly obvious, given recent events.

Yours truly, who is on a never ending quest to find the perfect coffee cup for the workplace, thought it would be a quaint idea to get a coffee mug stamped with the HD-DVD decryption key. As well as replacing my battle worn coffee mug (on which is emblazened the words “coffee”), it would provide an interesting conversation point in an office full of technical folk.

Okay maybe that’s a bit lame, but despite my twisted sense of humour I proceeded to set up a new private Cafe Press store, through which I could easily upload a design and get it made up and shipped over to Australia for a reasonable price.

I’d created a nice design and uploaded it to CafePress, ready to order myself a nice mug. But perhaps not, as it seems that CafePress have barred the use of the image after only a few hours of the image being uploaded. I can understand that the owners of CafePress probably don’t want to be the target of MPAA takedown notices, and I know of other similar products that were for public sale, which have also been delisted - however their website cites Copyright/Trademark reasons for the takedown, which is where things start to get interesting.

From what point of law can the MPAA, or CafePress for that matter, restrict the communication of this information? Now I’ll begin by pointing out that I am not, in fact, a lawyer. However I have studied various aspects of the law in relations to Copyright and Free Speech, as it applies in my home country Australia. So let’s look at some of the arguments that one might come up with:

Copyright Violation Copyright applies to original works of an artist, programmer, etc - but not to the ideas held within. In Australia, copyright is automatically credited upon creation of a work. Copyrights are upheld between nations by international treaty, so in most cases if you are the owner of a copyright in one country, you’ll be covered for most of the world’s developed nations. In my case with CafePress, I created the image myself in photoshop and am without question considered by law the copyright owner for the work uploaded. Furthermore, the HD-DVD encryption key itself does not meet the criteria to be copyrightable.

It’s a Trade Secret! Contrary to popular beleif, trade secrets are only protected if they are not disclosed or discovered by a third party. Reverse engineering an encryption key is (in terms of trade secrets) a legal process and once it has been in the public domain can no longer be considered proprietary information.

Given that the DMCA Takedown Notice mechanism can only be used to remove violations of copyright, that the HD-DVD decrpytion key is not actually copyrighted, nor does my image violate any copyright laws - there is no reason to say that my content should have been removed from the CafePress store on these basis.

Unfortunately, there are provisions under the DMCA making this an offense… which I will detail shortly…