It's a story straight out of Hollywood legend: one moment, you're a lonely little hexadecimal string of numbers with nothing but a bit part in the latest high-tech thriller ("HD-DVD v. Blu-ray," in home theaters now). Then, before you know it, you're a star! Your name in lights! Paparazzi are tracking your every move!
Well, not quite, but close enough. Earlier this week, a random hexadecimal string beginning with "09 F9" was virtually unknown to all but a small group of DVD security specialists and the hacker community that electronically jousts with them. The average Internet user couldn't have picked "09 F9" out of a line-up. But now, thanks to the passion of thousands of Digg.com users and Internet groupies, "09 F9" is virtually everywhere.
For some weeks now, representatives for the Advanced Access Content System (AACS) Licensing Administrator, LLC (originator of the "09 F9" encryption code) have been quietly writing to various Web sites, ordering them to remove any traces of the string from their sites on the grounds that it is used to decode copy-protected HD-DVD and Blu-ray discs. Publication of the code, according to AACS, is in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
When the owners of Digg.com tried to comply with the cease-and-desist letter they received, users of the popular news-rating site revolted, and literally crashed the site with "09 F9" posts. Digg's owners relented and simply gave up trying to suppress the hexadecimal string.
The mob-like uprising on Digg proved inspiring to artists across the Internet, and hundreds, if not thousands, have tried to capture the essence of the plucky little hexadecimal. On Flickr, there are about 42 different photos depicting "09 F9" in a variety of media, from tattoos to t-shirts to photo montages and mash-ups. One particularly clever user, tj scenes, put the "09 F9" string in a photo of Einstein at a chalkboard, with the string positioned as if Einstein was writing it.
Another riffs on Chinese fortune cookies. Under the fortune "A Can of Worms Won't Open Itself," the full "09 F9" string is listed as "Lucky Numbers."
'09 F9': The Musical
Others have created protest widgets with the string, or embedded it countless times in hidden fonts on their Web pages, or (inevitably) linked the "09 F9" string to various adult sites. By this afternoon, a search of the full "09 F9" string turned up more than 200,000 hits on Google. It is unknown at this time if Google has received a "cease-and-desist" letter similar to the one received over at Digg.com.
Artist Keith Burgun had one of the more creative responses to the controversy. He composed a song called "Oh Nine, Eff Nine," the lyrics of which consist of nothing more than a soulful recitation of the full hexadecimal string, accompanied by an acoustic guitar. With more than 150,000 views, the brief but subversive song is a YouTube hit. It's already the 49th most-viewed video this week.
The sudden stardom of "09 F9" may be debated for months and even years to come, as the legal system tries to figure out how to balance the respective rights of copyright holders and the general public. But, unquestionably, as artists around the Internet have demonstrated, the power of an idea may be truly unstoppable.