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Media Government United States IT

13 Years After DeCSS Case, Congressional IT Endorses VLC 106

Posted by timothy
from the government-is-a-goo-not-a-behemoth dept.
New submitter robp writes "After a link to VLC showed up in one of HBO's DMCA takedown requests, I recalled how often I've linked to VLC in my own copy, and how often I've seen that app noted across traditional-media outlets — even though you could make the same arguments against linking to it that Judge Kaplan bought in 2000. Now, though, even the House's own IT department not only links to this CSS-circumventing app but endorses it. Question is, what led to this enlightenment?"
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13 Years After DeCSS Case, Congressional IT Endorses VLC

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  • by eksith (2776419) on Saturday July 20, 2013 @07:27AM (#44336257) Homepage
    Either that or there are now aware enough and truly computer literate people are emplyed in the IT department (at least in regard to media tech)
    • What's the issue? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Dcnjoe60 (682885) on Saturday July 20, 2013 @10:44AM (#44336959)

      What's the issue. VLC does not decrypt DVDs and plays a myriad of formats, all legally. If one takes the step to install libdvdcss, which does decrypt the DVD that is the individual doing that, not VLC. Saying that VLC is responsible for it is like saying Ford is responsible for people speeding.

      • VLC plays encrypted DVDs without me having to install any other software.
        • by Dcnjoe60 (682885)

          VLC plays encrypted DVDs without me having to install any other software.

          What platform? On Windows, that is true, but if your Windows pc has a dvd player, it already comes with the software to decrypt DVDs. On linux, at least the distributions I have been working with, I've had to manually install and enable the decryption to be able to play DVDs. However, some distributions ship it pre-enabled.

          • It's Windows, and it has no other software for decrypting DVDs installed.
            • by tlhIngan (30335)

              It's Windows, and it has no other software for decrypting DVDs installed.

              Unless you're talking about Windows XP or Windows 8, it does, or at least the components for it.

              Though, I think the Windows version of VLC also has libdvdcss on it.

              However, it's not a very good version - there are plenty of DVDs that VLC will not play well or at all thanks to copy protection. It's usually easy to tell because you can get to the menu, but then you see artifacting all over the place.

              Of course, this can be fixed using Any

          • The software licensed to decrypt DVDs on Windows *isn't* VLC and that permission doesn't extend to all other user applications. Its still illegal.

        • by Elbart (1233584)
          No, it doesn't.
          • I wasn't aware you were looking over my shoulder while I did the install and played a DVD. But clearly you know better. You didn't happen to notice where I put my keys, did you?
        • by kermidge (2221646)

          If you're using Windows, as you indicate a few posts further on, it's because whether it came by default as part of base install or later with an update/upgrade of Windows Media Player, as part of a service pack or licensed codec bundle from Microsoft or third party, the equivalent dll is included. If it's not then one has to track it down and manually place it in several directories (something I've had to do on early XP installs, for instance; if memory serves, it came as default with WMP around SP3.) II

      • by Anonymous Coward

        VLC will play most regions on my Mac without having to reset the region on the drive. I regularly play DVDs from regions 2 and 3 and a good 80% of them will play without me having to haul out a drive with the correct region or reset the region on the drive (I used to have a big huge Mac with 3 Superdrives, one set to each region - now I keep two of those in external cages and hate to haul them out of storage) So, little bit of circumventing going on there.

      • by kermidge (2221646)

        You know that. I know that. Most here know that. The article, and the point, is that some people in the House IT department admit to knowing that. The summary appears to be a bit misleading in referring to VLC as a "CSS-circumventing app" since one usually has to install libdvdcss separately.

  • by some old guy (674482) on Saturday July 20, 2013 @07:28AM (#44336263)

    As soon as some unaware VLC-hating corporate campaign donor gets wind of this, you can bet your useless vote that said endorsement will be history.

    • by Selur (2745445) on Saturday July 20, 2013 @07:36AM (#44336277)
      most people probably don't really care any more about dvd copy protection,... (sadly VLC can't decrypt modern Blu-rays atm.)
      • by eksith (2776419) on Saturday July 20, 2013 @07:42AM (#44336289) Homepage
        It's only a matter of time. HDCP 1.x is already broken [wikipedia.org] and HDCP 2.x isn't as widespread yet.
        • by SuricouRaven (1897204) on Saturday July 20, 2013 @08:10AM (#44336373)

          That won't help. HDCP protects the output of the player on its way to the display - it has nothing to do with the encryption on the discs themselves. That is protected by AACS.

          Fortunately, AACS has also been broken. Doing so just isn't the simple insert-and-play task of breaking CSS - it requires the presence of a valid processing or device key. Several processing keys have been discovered via reverse engineering (The first of them was the famous 09 F9 11 02 9D 74 E3 5B D8 41 56 C5 63 56 88 C0 that was plastered all over the internet for a week in protest of DMCA takedowns directed at Digg for linking to it), but they can also be revoked in new discs, requiring a constant effort to discover new processing keys or device keys (Which can also be revoked, but not without breaking some players).

          The process of decrypting blu-ray is thus possible for those with a little skill, but cannot be easily automated and put into VLC.

          Those who do have the skill to decrypt AAC are kind enough to upload the resulting movie to various torrent sites though, saving the rest of us from having to go to such lengths ourselves.

          • by drinkypoo (153816)

            The process of decrypting blu-ray is thus possible for those with a little skill, but cannot be easily automated and put into VLC.

            My understanding is that this is the real reason that Sony nuked Other OS... it made blu-ray ripping easy.

            • It didn't at the time. But nuking it prompted one hacker to figure out the ultimate key (or whatever it is called) for the PS3 so he could put put the OtherOS option back, thus making blu-ray, and more importantly SACD, ripping easy.

              The reason SACD ripping is more important, despite being an obscure audio format is because there are plenty of other blu-ray rippers but there aren't any other SACD rippers that get you access to the original bits on the disc. SACD is still about as alive as it ever was with

            • You understand very little about that sequence of events I believe.

          • by cpghost (719344)

            The process of decrypting blu-ray is thus possible for those with a little skill, but cannot be easily automated and put into VLC.

            So basically, AACS is NOT broken (yet). What's broken is its currently poorly handled key management. As long as the process of breaking that system can't be automated, keep away from it. You don't know how long those few skilled people hanging around in doom9 are willing to help with YOUR favorite bluray movie.

          • by Anonymous Coward

            Or you could just use MakeMKV, which in addition one-click decryption of both CSS and AACS provides live streaming so you can use VLC to playback directly from the optical without ripping.

            VLC *could* bake the sort of technology in, it just hasn't.

        • Fuck bluray (Score:5, Insightful)

          by MrL0G1C (867445) on Saturday July 20, 2013 @08:59AM (#44336513) Journal

          I'm glad not to have a Bluray drive or any bluray discs. Every disc and drive bought supports software patents many which are of course of dubious validity. And that money supports further draconian DRM and more bribes to the congresses of the world. Not to mention both drives and discs can be bricked by new discs, firmware updates, internet checks etc. Part of the reason I never bought into this junk is because you can never be sure the 'content protection path' is going to work with your hardware. It's just not worth it.

          • by eksith (2776419)

            Agreed. And the sad thing is that the vast majority of videos coming out on Blu-ray are (in my view anyway) utter crap. Stunning explosions with no plot.

            The future is download only anyway. Files with nefarious instructions can be removed with relative ease unlike hacking proprietary hardware.

            • You could say the same about the vast majority of videos being released on any format. OTOH, I recently bought THE RED SHOES on Blu-ray as a gift for a friend. Hardly a Michael Bay film. As always, you have to look a bit harder to find the good stuff, because the studios want you to buy whatever dogshit they just wasted three hundred million bucks on, and the retailers want to sell that dogshit to you.

            • by cpghost (719344)

              The future is download only anyway.

              Not in the HUGE parts of the world where bandwidth is limited, and download caps are in effect. And this includes big parts of *ahem* the US as well. So it may be the future, but certainly not mainstream for at least a decade or two down the road.

            • by fnj (64210)

              Agreed. And the sad thing is that the vast majority of videos coming out on Blu-ray are (in my view anyway) utter crap. Stunning explosions with no plot.

              That is a description of most video program material in general; it has nothing to do with the Blu-ray technology per se. And so what? Don't watch most videos. Watch the good videos. Here are just a few of the superb quality titles available on Blu-ray:
              Lawrence of Arabia
              Doctor Zhivago
              The Great Escape
              Blade Runner
              Gattaca
              The Bridge on the River Kwai
              Chinatown
              Ma

          • by antdude (79039)

            Wow, I did not know drives and discs can be bricked like that. Is that a physical brick or something? Now, I really don't want a BR drive. I was waiting for software players to be ablet to play BR discs easily (no stupid hacking). I wonder if that is why Apple computers don't come with BR drives.

          • Here here! With magnetic platters becoming so cheap and spacious, they've quickly outstripped cost effectiveness versus any optical disc. These devices are not useful to the general populace. They're used only for movies, with only the highest quality of home theaters missing out on definition when compared to ancient DVDs. Why would anyone want to change their technology? New TV for 3d reasons. Even the original BD players don't work with the newer 3D tech. With this many debacles so close together, and in
      • by Anonymous Coward

        Use MakeMKV with VLC. It even works on Linux.

      • by Richy_T (111409)

        (sadly VLC can't decrypt modern Blu-rays atm.)

        How about other kinds of porn?

      • by antdude (79039)

        Can ANY software players decrypt modern BR discs? I avoided BR drives for this reason. I will stick with DVDs. :P

  • Why the surprise? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Rob_Bryerton (606093)
    Why the surprise? Not to imply VLC is in any way, shape or form bad or illegal, but why does it surprise you that the largest, most sophisticated organized crime syndicate this planet has ever know (U.S. Fed) endorses this product?

    I mean criminals, gangsters and their ilk are ordinary people just like you and me; they just have a different line of business and shall we say questionable judgement. But they need a good media player like anyone else.

    I am dead serious, and this is NOT a troll.
    • Re:Why the surprise? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 20, 2013 @08:19AM (#44336393)

      You are quite correct, Gangsters need good quality media players like VLC. In fact, to say they desire good media players like VLC would be correct also.

      My granddad was part of "Organized Crime" and he liked good radios, good TVs, good cars, good air conditioners, good stores, good roads, good food and good people (they paid their debts without sending out the goons). While he didn't pay retail for everything, he did pay taxes of all sorts at least some of the time.

      My granddad worked hard for his money earned through legal as well as illegal businesses. He raised eight children and paid for their educational pursuits (to Bachelor-level). He and his wife encourage their grandchildren to be good members of the community and citizens. When one of his sons died, he adopted his granddaughter, raised her and supported her through Master-level education.

      Were he alive today, he would applaud the VLC developers and publisher for their independent nature, self-sufficiency and service to the communities that they serve.

      VLC is also cross-platform--one thing that I greatly appreciate about VLC.

  • Where's the news? As soon as some politicians notice that some "illegal" tool, device, substance or whatever is useful to them, suddenly it's no longer illegal.

    • by causality (777677) on Saturday July 20, 2013 @08:07AM (#44336365)

      Where's the news? As soon as some politicians notice that some "illegal" tool, device, substance or whatever is useful to them, suddenly it's no longer illegal.

      That's actually a bit unusual.

      A more typical example would be the anti-gun politicians who really don't want any private ownership of firearms at all ... but their own guards are armed. Usually the politicians are complete hypocrites about it because they think they're special and the rules for everyone else shouldn't apply to them.

      • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Saturday July 20, 2013 @08:23AM (#44336413) Homepage Journal

        A more typical example would be the anti-gun politicians who really don't want any private ownership of firearms at all ... but their own guards are armed.

        It's better than that. Dianne Feinstein, the poster child for taking guns away, actually has a concealed carry permit and does or did carry a concealed revolver, while at the same time preaching about how citizens don't need guns for self-defense, especially pistols or assault rifles. It's more personally hypocritical than even you have made it out to be. Causality, indeed.

        • It's more personally hypocritical than even you have made it out to be.

          Is it hypocritical? I think it's clear that she believes the masters are to be armed and their subjects are not to be, so that the masters may more easily exert control. Her behavior and words are entirely consistent with that approach.

        • by trampel (464001) on Saturday July 20, 2013 @09:16AM (#44336593) Homepage

          According to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_positions_of_Dianne_Feinstein [wikipedia.org], she acquired a permit in the 70s and surrendered it in 1982.

          • by Anonymous Coward

            Government-supplied armed guards 24/7?

      • by Anonymous Coward

        A more typical example would be the anti-gun politicians who really don't want any private ownership of firearms at all ... but their own guards are armed. Usually the politicians are complete hypocrites about it because they think they're special and the rules for everyone else shouldn't apply to them.

        So these same politicians are also passing laws which forbid you and I from hiring armed guards of our own?

        Not saying what they are doing is right, just that it is not hypocritical. Disallowing private ownership of firearms but allowing armed guards, is no more hypocritical than disallowing private ownership of firearms but allowing cops to carry.

    • by Gr8Apes (679165) on Saturday July 20, 2013 @08:09AM (#44336371)
      VLC was never illegal. Unpopular with Hollywood DRM advocates, maybe, but never illegal.
    • by BlueStrat (756137)

      Where's the news? As soon as some politicians notice that some "illegal" tool, device, substance or whatever is useful to them, suddenly it's no longer illegal for them . They're perfectly fine with using some law/regulation/statute that they don't normally enforce (or just don't enforce against themselves) against select persons/companies/groups if it suits their purposes. See the attack on Gibson Corp. or the IRS debacle for recent examples.

      FTFY

      Strat

    • by Dcnjoe60 (682885) on Saturday July 20, 2013 @10:41AM (#44336945)

      Where's the news? As soon as some politicians notice that some "illegal" tool, device, substance or whatever is useful to them, suddenly it's no longer illegal.

      Technically, VLC isn't illegal. It can play all sorts of formats and by default it cannot play encrypted DVDs. Now, if you install libdvdcss, well, VLC is just reading the decrypted stream that libdvdcss provided, but that is through your actions, not VLCs or its developers.

      • by robp (64931)

        I don't think it's illegal myself (IANAL, but who in this thread is?), even subject to DMCA logic. It's not “primarily designed or produced” to play DVDs and has more than "limited commercially significant purpose” besides playing DVDs. But I would not be remotely surprised if somebody in the entertainment industry tried to bring a case against it anyway. Like I wrote in the linked article: If a printer manufacturer can try to use the DMCA to put a manufacturer of ink cartridges out of bus

  • by EmperorOfCanada (1332175) on Saturday July 20, 2013 @08:08AM (#44336367)
    Lobbyists will flood the streets of Washington and this will be down before August. While the decision by the IT staff is sensible and sane that won't change the thinking of the entertainment industry. I know someone in this industry and they produced a pilot good show a few years ago that they just couldn't sell. So I suggested that they promote it via various torrents and whatnot. This person just about lost their mind. It wasn't that they disagreed with my marketing logic it was that they wouldn't allow those pirating bastards to make one cent off their work. I pointed out that he wasn't making one cent off his work either.

    This and other factors leads me to believe that the thinking inside the movie industry that the whole internet (Netflix types included) is pure evil. This thinking seems to be religious in nature. So if you sell you wares on Netflix you have gone to the dark side.

    An example of the venom that I once heard about Netflix was that they won't do things like feature one work over another based on kickbacks or politicing. Basically the traditional TV types are comfortable when they can use their political weight to push their show into the primetime slot on Thursday which guarantees an audience. Whereas Netflix is more of "If people want it they will click on it". This does not sit well with people who would rather use their sharp elbows to make their crap shows a success.

    So these government IT people are showing a hint of reality by putting up the most used tool VLC. But the lobbyists will show their well financed Fantasy thinking by shutting this down before the end of the month. So in the long term they will run out of money to finance this stupid fantasy of theirs but they have a lot of money so it will take a long time.
    • by Mashiki (184564)

      Lobbyists will flood the streets of Washington and this will be down before August.

      You sure about that? The current administration seems to be pretty hung up on race baiting, and trying to further divide the US along racial lines.

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        Huh?? Where do you see the slightest indication of that? If you're referring to Obama saying Travon Martin could have been him thirty years ago that was a perfectly apt statement that we whites should think deeply about.

        Secondly, even if your absurd statement were true, the administration doesn't write the laws, Congress does.

        • ...the administration doesn't write the laws, Congress does.

          The president still has to sign them. He has veto power. He has the bully pulpit with all the media coverage one could ask for to appeal to the public. Fuck him if he doesn't use it. On top of that, he can issue executive orders. He is just as responsible as Congress for the laws we have on the books.

          • True, bipartisan support is hard to find since the rise of the Tea Party, but it takes only 67 senators and two-thirds of the House to override President Obama's veto. Anything passed through a voice vote, such as the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, can be assumed to have at least 80 percent assent and should easily pass once it goes back for a roll-call.
            • by causality (777677)

              True, bipartisan support is hard to find since the rise of the Tea Party

              Yes, that's because "bipartisan" is usually code for "time for Republicans to acquiesce to the demands of the Democrats". Unlike most Republicans who just want to appeal to their base and do whatever is politically expedient to get re-elected, the Tea Partiers generally operate on a belief system. This is why lots of more mainstream Republicans don't like them, because they will say and do things perceived to hurt the Republican party's election odds.

              For some reason people here just love to assume thin

        • by Mashiki (184564)

          Huh?? Where do you see the slightest indication of that?

          Didn't watch the last two presidential elections at all? That explains a lot. Useful tip: This is the views of someone who is an outsider looking in at American politics.

    • by Bert64 (520050)

      What's most stupid is that these "pirating bastards" don't make anything off the work either, almost all torrents are distributed for free.

  • More Likely (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Somebody Is Using My (985418) on Saturday July 20, 2013 @08:20AM (#44336397) Homepage

    More likely, the addition of the program came without knowledge that it included an illegal decryption program. Once it comes to the attention of the lawyers (which, thanks to this story, is more likely now than ever) it will probably be removed.

    The "best practices" PDF isn't recommending it /because/ it plays DVDs or uses DeCSS, after all. The article suggests best practices for setting up a Congressional website and one of those practices is "Any page that links to a multimedia file (or an audio file) should include access to software that allows the file to be accessed." VLC is just one of four media players listed (and it's mentioned after Quicktime and RealPlayer!). Whoever updated this PDF probably threw in VLC without being aware of its potential illegality and nobody up the line caught the mistake. I mean, it's a one-time mention on page 153 of a 250 page document!

    Hell, /I/ didn't even know VLC used DeCSS code to read DVDs. Then again, I don't think I've ever /used/ VLC to play a DVD; I barely use disc-based media anymore...

    So, yeah, most likely a mistake by the poor intern tasked with writing "revision 36" of this document. Expect mention of VLC to be gone by revision 37.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      "So, yeah, most likely a mistake by the poor intern tasked with writing "revision 36" of this document. Expect mention of VLC to be gone by revision 37."

      Darn, just after he got dumped by NTSB for confirming the offensive joke pilot names, he steps in it again.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I (as a member of our IT department) recommend VLC as the media player of choice... Not because it is free/open, but because it JUST WORKS. It plays almost everything you throw at it. It can read DVDs that non-tech savy police agencies copy into a subdiretory on a disc (unlike most players). So, Yeah, VLC!

      • Same here. Whenever a Windows user asks me why a video doesn't play, I ask if they've tried VLC yet. That always fixes the problem unless the file was corrupt (and even then, sometimes).

  • by Anonymous Coward

    VLC doesn't contain libdvdcss by default -- that library must explicitly be obtained and compiled as plugin to be used. Nowadays, there are commercial codec packs that contain legal licenses for all patented codecs, making libdvdcss unnecessary.

    • by robp (64931)

      Says who? If VLC were using any licensed DVD playback code, it wouldn't have the option of ignoring region codes (granted, newer drives make it harder to defeat that) or doing any of the other things that authorized DVD apps can't do. Further, I can assure you that I didn't compile libdvdcss on my Mac to get VLC to play any DVDs.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 20, 2013 @09:34AM (#44336661)

    TheDMCA was heald not to apply to the goverment:

    http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2008/08/air-force-cracks-software-carpet-bombs-dmca/

  • Context is pretty important. DeCSS was illegal in that specific context. This does not make it always illegal. The argument the MPAA made was that the purpose of DeCSS was to copy DVDs. While there are all sorts of problems with their argument, this point was technically true.

    Now the primary purpose of DeCSS is to allow VLC to play DVDs. The fact that it does exactly the same thing isn't important.

    The decision in the DeCSS case was the wrong one, and that was harmful, but this naivety about its ramifi
  • VLC does NOT "circumvent" CSS at all.

    It will, however, make use of an external code that circumvents CSS... if you have that code installed separately.

    That may sound like splitting hairs, but it's not. There is no code in VLC -- or from the folks at VideoLAN for that matter -- that circumvents any DRM. If you want that functionality, you have to install it separately. VLC is not responsible.
    • by tepples (727027)
      I was under the impression that the Windows binaries of VLC automatically install that code separately.
      • I suppose it's possible, but I would be surprised, because on every other OS, it informs you that if you want that functionality it needs an external library and tells you to download it.

        The fact remains that the De-CSS functionality is not in VLC, but in a separate program.
  • They needed something to watch any video they were sent. VLC does the job.

    • ^^ That. VLC is the best media player. Debate over DeCSS and other such trivia is ANCIENT HISTORY.

      The attention span of government, corporations and the general populace are VERY SHORT.

      Nobody should be surprised when a "yesterday's news" topic of marginal relevance fades into the forgotten of the new status quo.

      Not unlike issues over the *gasp* copying machine, the *GASP* camcorder and *OMG* the VCR or even Tivo.

      Short version: In a world that lives in the NOW, I'm sorry but there is NO "See I told yo
  • That's nice that they recommended VLC, but I can't take this recommendation seriously when they also recommend RealPlayer.

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