Hollywood Claims Victory in DVD Piracy Case

A ruling from a federal judge that bars a Web site operator from distributing software to descramble DVD codes is being hailed as a major blow against video piracy. U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan likened his ruling to “eliminating the source” of a contagious disease.

The suit was brought by The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) against Eric Corley, the editor and publisher of the Web site 2600.com, and the print publication “2600: The Hacker Quarterly.”

The legal controversy, which has been compared to the Napster saga, centers on the site’s practices of posting software that descrambles the code meant to prevent DVDs from being copied, and linking to more than 500 other sites worldwide that make similar software available.

Legal Test

The technology, called “DeCSS” was developed by hackers to enable computer users to copy full-length feature films from DVDs onto their hard drives or other recordable media.

Earlier this year, Judge Kaplan issued a preliminary injunction ordering Corley to remove the DeCSS software from the Web site, holding that publishing the software likely violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998.

Corley complied with the injunction and removed the DeCSS code from the 2600 site. However, he then linked to hundreds of other sites that make the program available, and encouraged others to do so as well. The MPAA asserted that Corley subverted the intent of the injunction, and that the links he created on the 2600 Web site were also in violation of the DCMA.

During the July trial, lawyers for the MPAA stated that software like DeCSS “can be used to steal and invade the rights guaranteed by our Constitution.” Corley’s attorneys, on the other hand, told the court that the interests of “fair use” and protection of First Amendment rights were at stake.

Pirated Movies on the Web

In his decision, Judge Kaplan dismissed the defendants’ argument that there was no evidence showing any specific time in which a person decrypted a copyrighted movie with DeCSS and transmitted it over the Internet.

The court pointed to numerous Web ads hawking decrypted DVDs, and noted testimony by an expert witness for the plaintiffs, who quickly found someone in a chat room offering to exchange a decrypted copy of the hit film “The Matrix” for a copy of “Sleepless in Seattle.”

“The availability of high speed network connections in many businesses and institutions, and their growing availability in homes, make Internet and other network traffic in pirated copies a growing threat,” Kaplan ruled.

The judge noted further that “plaintiffs have been gravely injured” because the use of DeCSS “threatens to reduce the studios’ revenue from the sale and rental of DVDs” and thwarts “new, potentially lucrative initiatives for the distribution of motion pictures in digital form, such as video-on-demand via the Internet.”

Assassination Analogy

Judge Kaplan held that Corley’s argument that computer code is speech entitled to First Amendment protection was “baseless,” ruling that computer code is not “purely expressive any more than the assassination of a political figure is purely a political statement.”

MPAA chairman Jack Valenti said in a statement, “Today’s landmark decision nailed down an indispensable Constitutional and Congressional truth: It’s wrong to help others steal creative works.”

Lawyers for Corley said they were not surprised by the decision. A statement on the 2600 Web site says that an appeal is in the works.

“News of this defeat has angered and shocked people throughout the Net and its effects will be profound. In the end, all of our concerns about the First Amendment and freedom of speech went right out the window,” the statement says.

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