Friday, August 05, 2005

A Brief History of DVD Copying (Part 3)

On August 17, 2000 U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan ruled in favour of eight major motion picture studios in their fight against the magazine 2600's posting of the DeCSS code. Not only did the ruling prevent 2600 from distributing copies of the source doe, but it also prohibited the act of linking to web pages that had the code. The judge also made the incredible statement that "computer code is not purely expressive any more than the assassination of a political figure is purely a political statement." The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which was paying for the defence of 2600, appealed the decision and but was denied the opportunity for a new case less than a year later.

While the 2600 DeCSS court cases were taking place in New York another round of legal battles were taking place in California. This time however the DVD movie trade group was not having any luck. In fact by the time the case had been reached the state's Supreme Court in 2003 (after numerous appeals) the court ruled that the publication of DeCSS information on decoding of DVDs should be protected by freedom of speech laws. Conceding defeat on January 25, 2004 the DVD trade group dropped its suit against a California programmer for posting the DeCSS code, all but giving up all future fights in America.

Half-way around the world, the DVD trade group was had similar results in their court case against Norwegian Jon Johansen. The prosecutors had hoped for a 90-day suspended sentence, confiscation of his computer and the payment of all court costs. Instead the teenager was found innocent of violating computer break-in laws and set free in January 7th, 2003. Their ruling was to the point:

"The court finds that someone who buys a DVD film that has been legally produced has legal access the film. Something else would apply if the film had been an illegal ... pirate copy"

The aftermath of the DeCSS court cases made the code one of the most spread and studied algorithms ever. The legality of the code is still questionable even in 2005. Less than a year ago, the manufacturers of commercial DVD copying program named DVD-X-Copy (which included a DeCSS derivation) had to shut down after being served with several lawsuits from the motion picture industry. As well new technologies have recently been developed that supposedly break DeCSS types of programs from reading and copying DVD movie discs. And several new formats have been proposed to replace DVDs in the upcoming years. These new formats will include much stronger copying protection.


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