The film industry is pitted against hacker groups and the Linux
development community this week in a civil case that will test the
legality of a utility that allows DVDs to be copied and transmitted
over the internet.
The case concerns Decode Content Scrambling System (DeCSS), a
utility written last year as part of a project to develop a DVD
driver for Linux. A Windows version is now available.
DeCSS has been called the MP3 of movies, but it will be a long
time before bandwidths allow massive DVD files to be swapped as
easily as audio files over the web.
Nevertheless, Hollywood is still sufficiently alarmed by the
prospect of a flood of digital video piracy to take the editor of a
hacker site to court to prevent the distribution of the
Eric Corley, editor-in-chief of 2600.com, a hacker magazine and
website, faces a lawsuit which alleges violation of an untested
1998 federal law that aims to protect digital media, the Digital
Millennium Copyright Act.
The plaintiffs in the case, which include Hollywood's eight
biggest studios, are seeking an injunction to prevent Corley from
including hyperlinks on his site that point to the DeCSS
Corley, who now goes by the name Emmanuel Goldstein after a
character in the George Orwell novel 1984, provoked the anger of
the film industry by posting source code for DeCSS on his website.
He has since taken this down but refuses to delete hyperlinks to
other sites where the utility may be obtained.
"This case is about freedom of speech. It's about the right of a
computer user to play with technology in any way they like -
without then facing charges," Corley told reporters at a press
conference in New York. He added that 2000 sites have posted links
to the controversial DeCSS program.
The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the trade
group for the Hollywood studios, argues that free speech is not at
issue since the only purpose of DeCSS software is to get around
Jack Valenti, president and chief executive of the MPAA, said:
"This is a case of theft. The posting of the de-encryption formula
is no different from making and then distributing unauthorised keys
to a department store. The keys have no real purpose except to
circumvent the locks that stand between the thief and the goods he
or she targets."
Appearing for the plaintiffs, Carnegie Mellon professor Michael
Shamos sought to demonstrate that that downloadable copies of
popular films such as The Matrix are readily available online. He
said that his assistant went into an Internet Relay Chat channel
and received an illicit copy of The Matrix in exchange for a copy
of Sleepless in Seattle. However, he admitted that the transfers
took approximately six hours.
"The same thing is going to happen to videos as happened with
Napster," Shamos told the court. The trial, before US District
Judge Lewis Kaplan in a Manhattan federal court, continues today.
Up to 30 Linux activists are staging a demonstration outside the
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