How do you show users a movie online without letting them make a copy? For streaming services like iTunes, Amazon, and Netflix, the answer has been High-Bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP), an Intel-owned system that encrypts the video stream on its way to your screen, preventing it from being intercepted and copied by conventional means. It's long been possible to strip out HDCP encryption whether through analog conversion or other means, but legal threats have kept such tactics from becoming widespread.
Now, Intel and Warner Bros. are accusing a Chinese company of systematically dodging those protections in a complaint filed this week in federal court. A Shenzhen-based company called LegendSky makes the HDFury line of devices, which are "primarily designed or produced for the purpose of circumventing HDCP," according to the complaint, and "have only limited commercially significant purpose or use other than to circumvent HDCP." The complaint quotes a number of product descriptions in which LegendSky presents HDFury as a way to access unprotected versions of HDCP-protected content.
Piracy isn't the only reason you might want to strip out HDCP. Certain HDMI splitters strip out the protections for simple engineering reasons, avoiding similar lawsuits only because they don't advertise that feature. The cryptography behind HDCP has been broken for more than five years, so it's unlikely that HDFury devices did any new damage to the principles behind the system. The plaintiffs are seeking damages, equitable relief, and an injunction against further sale of the devices.