Monolith: Another Totally Pointless Exercise in Semantics

I like Digg. It usually tweaks me onto cool stuff but today it tweaked me onto this SourceForge project called Monolith.

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.

Ookay. So basically it’s an application that XOR’s two binary files together. Woop-dee-do, what does it all mean, Basil? Get warmed up for some hackneyed mental gymnastics!

[I]n the digital realm, the content is copyrighted, while the binary representation surely is not, given that there exist an infinite number of representations for the same piece of content. … The copyright holders do not construct any of these bit sequences [of mp3s or CD tracks] themselves, so the sequences cannot be rightly called part of their work. The content, in this case the music, is what is copyrighted.
So, why is this weird? Because the Internet cannot be used to exchange content; it can only exchange bit sequences. When people download an MP3 file via the Internet, they are downloading a bit sequence, one of an infinite number of possible digital representations for a particular piece of content.

Fascinating observation, Sherlock, but utterly irrelevant. Nobody’s ever gotten out of a copyright case by claiming their download of britney_spears__toxic.mp3 was an arbitrary array of bits not under copyright. And yet the author continues on this tack as if to provide a reductio ad absurdum for this totally obvious fact before finally announcing that copyright “is enforced with different logic”. Ya think?

But how far away from direct and explicit representations do we have to go before copyright no longer applies?
Mono files, given that they contain no information from the original Element files, are not explicit representations. The binary data in a Mono file cannot be directly interpreted to produce a presentation of the copyrighted content, so they cannot be seen as representational at all. Mono files take the data a step beyond any explicit representations, and I claim that this step goes far enough to leave copyright behind.

I think your claim is bullshit, sir. The mono file itself is not copyrighted, and the other half of the xor decode may be public domain too.  Wow, that’s awesome. But as soon as you distribute the mono file and mention where to get the basis file for decoding as well, you are guilty of illegal distribution of copyrighted material. Because, guess what pal, the courts don’t give a shit about how elegant or retarded your enciphering algorithm is, if it is reversible with reasonable effort and produces copyrighted music on the other end you just did something illegal.
If I were a famous singer and I sand a Paul McCartney song at a performance without arranging prior permission I am also guilty of violating copyright and guess what in that case the encoding system was an arrangement of neurons inside my brain, and I can still be charged and found guilty. If the courts can charge the neurons in my brain as a method of encoding copyrighted information for purposes of illegally reproducing then they sure as hell won’t care what kind of fancy algorithmic crap you’re doing to recontextualize copyright law. Copyright law is based mostly on intent.
Nice try buddy, but the RIAA is still gonna mess you up when they find you downloading Black Eyed Peas off Kazaa.