back to article How gizmo maker's hack outflanked copyright trolls

When the master encryption key locking down millions of Blu-ray players and set-top boxes was mysteriously leaked last year, Hollywood moguls worried their precious high-definition movies would face a new flurry of piracy. Instead, it spawned the Chumby NeTV, a tiny, Wi-Fi-connected box that sits between a television and a set- …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I would love to see some lawyers try and take this to court., would the DCMA even count since there is no decryption?

    1. Mat Child


      Lawyers have a way of 're-interpreting' law and past cases to bring people to court, (Or at least threaten to)

      Many small innovators will surrender before then as they don;t have the resources to fight this kind of bull.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Bunnie has previous form

        Been following his blog for years. He's prepared expert testimony for several DMCA cases. I doubt if there are many more expert in the bleeding edge of decryption legalitles and I reckon that ought to make potential suers think twice.

    2. LaeMing Silver badge

      Would DMCA count?

      That would depend on how big the kickback on offer from the MegaCorp was.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Having just had...

      about a year's worth of dealing with lawyers, all I can say is they'll find a way.

      I've found that, with a smile on their face, a spring in their step, a song in their heart, and, most importantly with their bloody meter running they'll quite happily argue;

      black == white,


      legal == illegal,

      illegal == legal,

      criminal == civil,


      and that's just before breakfast

      Give them food (or the promise of fees++, sorry ++fees) watch their minds go into legalistic gobbledygook overdrive...

      Thy'd probably tackle it along the lines of, hey, he's still using a circumvention enabling device (the leaked key) to make monies even though he isn't circumventing the copyrighted material, the key belongs to our clients, we wants the monies...with the right judge/legal system, they might stand a chance.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Won't stop them.

      Smart as it is they'll probably still try.

      Don't make the mistake of thinking that copyright or patent actions are always about recompense for damages, they're often used to destroy a competing company by removing their market and/or financially ruining them.

      Sad fact of life, the courts are used as a business tool these days.

    5. BristolBachelor Gold badge

      Maybe, maybe not, but that doesn't stop someone claiming that you need a license to join their party.

      ISTR that HDCP also uses the keys to verify that the device connected at the other end is OK to talk to? If his box is in the middle, and convinces the source to talk to it because it is a valid receiver then I'm sure some lawyer can wangle something. After all, if they can claim that executing a program is copying, because the content is read out of a ROM chip into the processor, then they can claim anything.

      1. thomaskwscott

        One can only hope.....

        ....that a measure of common sense will be used. However when lawyers and big tech. are involved it's not likely.

        1. nyelvmark

          a measure of common sense

          >> ...However when lawyers and big tech. are involved it's not likely...

          I disagree. The British/American legal sytem generally results in common sense winning the day. That's why we have independent judges and juries (not appointed by government). Juries can even disagree with the law, and find someone "not guilty" where it's obvious that they actually did commit the crime. Judges don't have this privilege, but can make it obvious that they disagree with the law by saying so, and by allowing appeal to a higher court.

          Unfortunately, the triumph of common sense may have to wait a long time for a ruling of the supreme court, or even for a legislative change (where the supreme court is forced into a decision it doesn't agree with).

          This is where the lawyers for the massive corporations make their money - not in obtaining the desired verdict, but in delaying the undesired ultimate verdict for as long as possible, while their clients continue to cream the market.

          Life's a bitch, innit? Keep hoping, though. It might work one day.

      2. James Henstridge


        Read the article again. Neither device performs an HDCP handshake with the NeTV box, since it passes the signal through. From the description, it sounds like it snoops on the handshake to determine the session key used to encrypt the video data.

        From that point, all it does is encrypt the video overlay using the session key and overlay it on the encrypted video stream. Because it is a streaming cipher, the changes to the data do not corrupt the original video data.

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Black, round-cornered rectangle

      Clearly a violation of Apple's patent...

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Requires knowledge HDCP

    So somewhere in the chain there's someone who's signed up to the HDMI license and has broken the licensing agreement.

    1. umacf24

      Not necessarily.

      Everyone owns a copy of the key -- or at least everyone with HDCP equipment. The key is in the displays as well.

      So one way of getting it would be to break into the tamper-proof hardware where key origination is done.

      Miind you, protecting a secret with licence agreements with multiple players, multiple jurisdictions and (of course) multiple employees, is totally for the birds.

      1. John Sager


        Devices only contain a device key, which is derived from the master key. Around the time HDCP was deployed, a paper was published showing that it was possible to derive the master key from a relatively small set of device keys ( 40 under favourable conditions). So not everyone has the master, but it's only necessary to break 40 or so devices to be able to derive it. Presumably some hardware implementations are/were weaker than others in protecting the key material, leading to the break.

  3. Nigel Brown

    All jolly clever and all that but...

    Are people really that sad that they cant even watch a movie without having to be fed tweets throughout?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The inability to see the bigger picture reflects badly on you.

    2. Anonymous Coward


      ...maybe be good for businesses, say someone like tesco's showing a BluRay while overlaying it with pricing, what isle it's located in etc etc....

      Or maybe you're bidding on something on the tat bizzare and don't want to check evey five mins for an update.

      Or your waiting for an important email, but don't want to keep running off to check your pc....


      sod the Yanks, just sell it everywhere the DMCA doesn't apply (yes we all know USA law = World law)

    3. DrXym Silver badge

      I suspect

      That people will be buying NeTV for the hardware than the software it runs out of the box. With a little repurposing this becomes an HDMI stripper / video capture device.

      1. AlanB

        Re: I suspect

        > With a little repurposing this becomes an HDMI stripper

        From the analysis linked to by the article: "It can’t easily be turned into an HDCP stripper since that would require a lot of rework of the internals. "

      2. Voland's right hand Silver badge

        It does not have the CPU power to strip. Throw 4-5 times the CPU power and then... maybe... But at present - nope.

    4. Pat 11

      cooler than you think

      Ever watched 'event' TV while paying attention to the hashtag? Try it, Question Time is miles better. With one of these you can watch a movie with your mates in various locations and chat about it like you can during multi player games.

    5. Juillen 1


      I can't be arsed to have tweets and stuff on my screen while I'm watching a movie.. But I'll be damned if someone tells me that I couldn't if I wanted to.

  4. Christian Berger Silver badge

    Well but they probably need to encrypt

    Encryption probably also is covered by patents.

    What I don't understand is where the use of this is supposed to be. HDCP is, apart from niches like BluRay, all but dead.

    1. DrXym Silver badge

      HDCP is dead?

      Virtually every high definition box which shows premium content is REQUIRED by the content providers to support it.

  5. Neil Brown

    I wonder how much it will be...

    Lacking an HDMI projector, and having not had a TV for years, I don't have a use for this, but I want to reward this kind of creativity - even better if I don't have to cause the creator to go to the expense of actually building and shipping me something, so perhaps a "happy to accept cash-based recognition for this kind of creativity" approach.

  6. Tim Walker
    Thumb Up

    Is this available yet?

    I really hope this little fella doesn't get pancaked by the lawyers, because I would definitely want to check it out. Sadly, as Mat Child says (06.30), if the Big Players want to put a stop to a product which threatens their world view, they often have the cash to find a way.

    I wonder how much Chumby are asking for the NeTV - if they can bring it in under £100, that moves me into the "definitely interested" bracket...

  7. Mage Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    I have no interest in having one of these, but unlike many shiny gadgets it's really innovative.

    If the other end of the WiFi link though was a box monitoring the cooker, doors, freezer etc to put up alerts I might be interested though.

    1. BorkedAgain
      Thumb Up

      If the developer's smart...

      ...and I think it's fairly clear that he is, then he'll have the unit set up with a simple API allowing any old feed to be processed by the device. That would cover the supermarket use case, the home monitoring use case and any number of others...

  8. Bluenose

    Risk to anyone bringing the case

    I reckon taking these guys to court would be a difficult case to prove and open up anyone making a claim to allegations that they are using the courts to prevent innovation rather than protect their rights.

    Doubt any one will go to court though as probably cheaper to buy them than pay the really expensive lawyers.

  9. Paul_Murphy

    That sounds like a really useful device, and the solution is really elegant.

    I hope that the device manufacturers buy up licenses for this so that they can put it in their boxes.


  10. Rich 2 Silver badge


    Very clever stuff, no doubt, and an impressive demonstration of a concept.

    But WHY would I want to watch a DVD with a twitter ticker scrolling along the bottom?

    1. Lamont Cranston


      you can?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        re: because you can....

        as if one add-ridden ruined medium isn't enough.

        How long will it take to have continuing useluss adds rolling on your movie for stupid made-in-china-crap.

      2. MrCheese

        Just because you can...

        ...Doesn't mean you should

        1. Uncle Siggy
          Big Brother

          Your remarks are doubleplusgood, citizen!

    2. Steve Evans

      I can think of several uses...

      How about in the 24 hours petrol station to tell the numpty, who is in a semi coma watching a film, that the guy by pump number 2, who is jumping up and down and waving his arms, would like the magically locomotion potion to pour from said pump into the containing vessel cunningly built into his 4 wheeled tin box?

      That would be useful until they legalise connecting an HT circuit to numpty's family jewels.

  11. Ragarath


    Does this not though actually still break copyright?

    IANAL but surely the picture that the user sees at the end is still modified even though it is an overlay?

    But then because it is a user actively using the device does that mean that the user wanted the overlay and therefore does not break copyright?

    Headache, this is why IANAL :)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      .. but not as we know it Jim ...

      Are subtitles and even PiP not counted as overlays as well - they modify what the user sees but without breaking copyright?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      it doesn't change content, it conceals part of it. Any two pieces of content are interchangable from that point of view. Which surely *ought* to make copyright irrelevant?

    3. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart

      The DMCA criminalises production and dissemination of technology, devices, or services intended to circumvent DRM measures, and the act of circumventing such DRM measures and controls.

      The Chumby doesn’t do any of that, and the security of the original HDMI signal is still intact. The only issue I can see is that Chumby have not received an HDMI licence.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        The Chumby definitely doesn't infringe copyright or require a licence for HDCP or anything to do with HDMI as it's an Internet connected alarm clock whereas the NeTV might well require one and that's the device that adds content to an HD stream.

        1. Paul 129

          What big player wouldn't give this a legal challenge.

          "The Chumby definitely doesn't infringe copyright or require a licence for HDCP or anything to do with HDMI"

          I would think that the lawyers would be poring over this. Take their time and get it right. The outcome if they were successful would be to ensure that anyone who wants to send data compatible with X, in any form, must be licensed. I would have thought a precedent like this would be worth billions to any of the big players.

          Hell, It would be worth getting a Chinese clone of this, importing it, and then throwing a legal hissy at the straw man company you setup, take that to court in Texas. Your out of pocket for more than the legal fees (you need to hire loosing lawyers), but you have a hell of a chance to structure things so you get that precedent.

  12. Neil B

    Great little device. If the lawyers scare him off, isn't there any provision for him to license a patent for "Method of injecting video overlays onto encrypted HDCP streams" or is that just a blatantly stupid question?

  13. Ralthor

    Legal fund?

    Is it too early to be setting up a legal fund for him? Personally I have no use for the hardware but this looks like something that might go to court where the small guy might actually win.

    And that I would like to see.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "something that might go to court where the small guy might actually win."

    If there's ever a risk of that happening, the big guys settle out of court, preferably with a confidentiality agreement. E.g. Murdoch vs selected 'celebs' (eg Gordon Taylor, Max Clifford) in recent years. Obviously the relevant Met high-ups didn't tie that one down as hard as they should have, and consequently it ain't over yet.

    1. teebie

      It's rare the small guy wins, but it happens

      Lucasfilm v. Ainsworth, No. [2011] UKSC 39, U.K. Supreme Court

      1. Tomato42 Silver badge

        It's UK court, it doesn't count.

  15. Peter Townsend

    Explanation needed

    What exactly is a "copyright troll"

    "Patent troll" I understand because patents can be a very, very grey area. But copyright is hard and fast, either it's been broken by the unlicensed and unapproved reprodiction or duplication of copyrighted material or it hasn't.

    Does the author really see no difference between the actions of the likes of Lodsys and those of film and record companies?

    Incidentally I'm not making a judgement on Chumby with this comment, it's just the bias of the headline that concerns me.

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Copyright is grey as well.

      Similar to Patent trolling, copyright trolling is using the threat of legal action regarding copyright to prevent or dissuade someone from doing something, or to directly extract monies from a victim.

      In many cases copyright has not actually been infringed, the troll is simply trying to scare the victim into doing (or not doing) something - the case almost never gets to court.

      Intellectual Property is a grey area pretty much by definition.

    2. Daniel B.

      There are quite a few.

      CoS is well known for bullying critics with "copyright infringement" lawsuits, which is why Anonymous came to be well.. Anonymous.

      Anyone pimping off dead author's works is potentially one of these; the one that screwed over The Verve for "Bittersweet Symphony" being one of them (the Rolling Stones are still alive, but the one with the rights who sued isn't one of 'em)

      It might also apply to anyone holding copyrights for works not made by them; they can and will do things against the spirit of the original author.

    3. Hud Dunlap
      Paris Hilton

      Copyright is not hard and fast

      There is the fair use doctrine. Posting lyrics from a song to make a point about the singer is one area. Eminem has sued a number of Rap magazines over this issue. He has only won the ones where they posted the entire song. Fragments are ok but the question becomes how big is the fragment.

      You can also use copyrighted material to make a parody.

      Paris, because she is a parody of herself.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What a waste

    All that just to splatter inane shite over the screen while you're watching. FFS, get a life.

    1. Paul_Murphy


      Oh - when to stop laughing.

      So you're OK with the programmes, most of which are inane poo,

      And you're OK with the adverts - which are mostly a waste of everyones' time and rarely even entertaining.

      And you're OK with the channel breaks where they tell you (and sometimes show you) what will be shown - which is another waste of your time.

      But you're not OK that you can MAKE A CHOICE to buy this device then install and configure it yourself?

      What I would like would be to decide for myself what I wanted on my screen:

      Adverts - No,

      Breaking News - yes in a bottom banner please,

      Anti-piracy 'adverts' - No,

      Trailers for other films - maybe remind me at the end of the film rather than showing credits,

      The film / programme - Yes please.


  17. Craig 12

    People moan when movies have black bars. This device turns those black bars into a stream of content from the net and you're still not happy!

  18. eek the geek

    Would've been nice to locate both HDMI ports on the back.

    I assume the device is going to be sitting on top of a shelf/TV/STB so the IR sensor is pointing forward but then you're gonna have an HDMI cable poking out before bending back :/

  19. Anonymous Coward

    Never mind the law or the Technical brilliance...

    Who the hell /wants/ their movies interfered with by streaming twitter/e-mail/etc on the screen?

    1. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

      Still missing the big picture

      As also said earlier to virtually the same retort.

      Ultimately it doesn't have to be twitter, doesn't even have to be there if you don't want it, but is a means to provide an overlay when that's desired. Maybe people want an alarm clock indicator to pop-up on their screens, want to be told when a particularly flagged email arrives, perhaps just want a reminder to say stop watching this and change channel. How many people have put a meal on, sat down in front of a telly and become so engrossed that the meal was cooked and on the way to incinerating before they realised?

      I don't want a twitter or email stream on my TV but there are certainly times I'd have appreciated it if there had been an on-screen indication of something.

      It's not what it's actually used for; it's the ability to do it that is the real story here.

  20. Iain Thomas

    AV Recievers...

    My Onkyo amp can overlay a menu via HDMI, complete with translucency. Suggests there's a HDCP-sanctioned method of doing this, and I fear any judge would want an explanation of why NeTV apparently has devised this method for the purpose of avoiding the HDCP licensing fees/requirements...

    1. Eddie Edwards
      Thumb Up


      Yes, the path of least legal resistance is to buy an HDMI decoder chip with HDCP functionality (e.g. and buy an HDCP key. What this device does is only impossible if you don't want to pay to play.

  21. Nick Galloway

    When all else fails...

    If the big boys pull out their razors to intimidate this guy, I would recommend he gives the technology away, allowing every man and his dog to really keep the legal eagles busy!

    I am still stuck on DVDs so it really doesn'y impact me, I would just like to see the innovator stick one to the megaliths of creative suppression.

  22. Colin Macdonald 1
    Thumb Up

    Previous Form

    Bunny Huang has also written a fascinating book documenting how he reverse engineered the original XBOX, as a bit of fun to take his mind off his PhD. A truly fascinating read, and demonstrates this guy operates on a different level. Genius doesn't come close to describing the skill involved:

    E.g he needed to dump the comms going across the northbridge interface, the equipment to do this was several million dollars, so he builds his own out of spare parts.

  23. NomNomNom

    secret key

    I am not clued into this kind of stuff but I am interested in the answer if anyone knows

    If modifying the content (meaningfully) requires the "secret" key, could it not be argued that the encryption was not only there to protect the content but also protect modification of the content? Or does the law not cover protection of content against modification?

    Also a slightly related question: If I encrypted some stuff with a private key but intentionally published the private key publicly, would it therefore become legal for people to decrypt the data? Or would it still be illegal to decrypt it? Just interested in this one, not sure where to find the answer other than ask here.

  24. Diginerd
    Thumb Up

    There's a lot more to this than tweets

    Something I've been doing for years, and now the triple play CableCOs here in the USA have started to do too is use video overlay like this to flash up caller ID when the phone rings.

    Works great, no need to interrupt the movie and go get the phone if it's a Telemarketer. Works even better if you mute the ringer before you sit dow. Now all you have is a couple of seconds of a name & number at the bottom of the screen.

    The bugger is you need to be watching content from the STB. If you're watching a BluRay you're screwed. This device opens the door around that.

    My dodge is averything goes through my HTPC, so I can overlay anything I like on the TV (Monitor really) before it gets onto the HDMI cable. Chumby makes the same thing practical for "The Consumer".

    The only people who may have a case against it are Intel as they are picky about getting licencing fees for HDMI. That doesn't sound insurmountable.

    Finally the NY Hall of Science is down the road from me, think I might go to the "Maker's Fair" sounds fun. Particularly if I wear my "I void Warranties" T-Shirt...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      by all means, go.

      If you can write decent copy, Dan (this piece's author), might be interested.

      This would be great for me. I can sit at home watching TV/Movies, and without having to keep my phone handy be able to get system/network alerts at the bottom of the screen.

      This might even make ESPN worth watching, just feed it a constant stream of spaces to cover that annoying banner they think we like.

  25. InfosecChap


    Why can't I come up with that. just brilliant.

    Now all I need is an output from the box going into my DVD recorder and I'm all set up

    I'll buy that one!

    chin chin


  26. Jason Terando

    Patent Filing?

    It would be epic if NeTV filed for a patent on super-imposing video content onto an encrypted video stream using a publicly available hacked encryption key.

    1. confused one


      That would be absolutely Brilliant

  27. david 12 Silver badge


    I'm fairly deaf: anything that adds subtitles to the many places they are missing would be welcomed by me.

  28. FuzzyTheBear

    The Pain In The B%** Award finalists are ..

    HDMI this is the worst transport i have seen to date. You got incredible trouble reaching over 15 m , the cables that allow you to are garden hoses , extenders over cat5 cost an arm and a leg .. ( literally ) , and you cant do what you want with it .. eg show on multiple displays without using yet more hardware that cost a fortune to the consumer. .. hey .. wakeee wakeee .. we used to do WAY more over simple coax : just look at hdsdi , or component .. all over coax , all with way longer transmission distance ( like 300 feet ) and that without annoying cat5 adapters that break every few years and need replacement. Copyright protection is one thing, but when it messes with the ability of the consumer to do what he needs to with the signals for his uses it becomes counterproductive and as a whole we should refuse to use technologies like that one on the grounds that it is a technically inferior product.


  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Brilliant hack

    This is epic win.

    I wonder if something like this device could also display for example tornado warnings, etc from authorised sources.

    Could save lives, especially when people are watching a film instead of the news and completely miss the bulletins.


  30. Steven Roper

    The corporate overlords

    won't bother with this guy until/unless he starts to make serious money with it. Then they'll decide whether or not he's the kind of material they want in their echelon of power, and if not then they'll sue him into bankruptcy; if he is then they'll see to it that he becomes a multibillionaire like themselves.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If his device was a 2-part system...

    ...and they were connected to each other by CAT6 cable with standard RJ45 plugs, then I would be interested...

    Oh, they do that already, so can I extend 300ft of Furukawa cable between my TV and my Blu-ray player?

    OTOH, great idea for running ads, and on screen alarms...

  32. Rodrigo Rollan

    I would use the fair use defence

    Since I own the output media (TV, Monitor, etc.) I would defend my right to be able to display whatever I like on it. Since I am not tempering with the content, simply adding more content on the output I would argue that it is fair use. For instance, PIP (as mentioned by a fellow Reg Reader) and even OSD falls in this category (those lovely menus our currents TV sets use control them).

    Nevertheless, I never doubt lawyers to be able to convince people that black is white, red is blue and cows can fly.

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