Monday, April 17, 2006

File Reconstruction and Intellectual Property

Via Catallarchy, a fascinating new issue with intellectual property and file sharing:

Take a copyrighted piece of digitally stored information. Take another comparable piece of digitally stored information that'’s in the public domain. Take the two binaries of these files and XOR them together. The resultant binary output will bear no statistically significant resemblance to either of the two original inputs.

Now, who owns the intellectual property rights to the newly created file? If the answer is 'no-one' (or even "the person who created the file"), then copyrights have a big problem. For any given logic gate, if you know the output and all but one of its inputs then you reconstructruct the other input by deductive inference, and it's a relatively trivial matter to write a program that does this. If the output file and one of the original source files are freely distributable, then fileswappers can simply share these files completely legally and reconstruct the copyrighted file with ease.

And this isn't just a pipe dream, Monolith is out there:
Monolith is a simple tool that takes two arbitrary binary files (called a Basis file and an Element file) and "munges" them together to produce a Mono binary file (with a .mono extension). Monolith can also reconstruct an Element file from a Basis file and a Mono file.

In most cases, the resulting Mono file will not be statistically related to either file. If you compare the Mono file to the Element file, the Mono file will contain none of the information present in the Element file. In other words, the Mono file by itself tells you nothing at all about the data in the Element file. Only when combined with the Basis file will the Mono file provide information about the Element file.

Monolith can be used for exploring the boundaries of digital copyright, and the rest of this website is devoted to such an exploration. The core questions: What happens when we use Monolith to munge copyrighted files? What is the copyright status of the resulting .mono file? These questions are considered in depth below.
Also, a small disclaimer: "if you apply Monolith in the real world, your legal mileage may vary." Translation: Don't try this at home.

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