Judge Bars Posting of DVD Decoding Software

A federal judge yesterday granted a request by eight motion picture studios for a preliminary injunction against operators of Web sites that post a software program that breaks the encoding system used by millions of digital video discs (DVD).

The ruling, by U.S. District Court Judge Lewis A. Kaplan of the Southern District of New York, forces three New York defendants -- Shawn C. Reimerdes, Eric Corley (also known as Emmanuel Goldstein) and Roman Kazan -- to immediately remove the DeCSS software utility from their Web sites or face contempt of court charges. A similar complaint was also filed against Jeraimee Hughes in the District of Connecticut that has yet to be decided.

"Judge Kaplan's ruling represents a great victory for creative artists, consumers and copyright owners everywhere. I think this serves as a wake-up call to anyone who contemplates stealing intellectual property," said Jack Valenti, president and CEO of the Los Angeles-based Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), in a statement.

DeCSS was originally created by Norwegian programmers who reverse-engineered the DVD Content Scrambling System (CSS) to give computers running the Linux operating system DVD playback capability. Detailed analysis of weaknesses in the CSS have been circulating on the Internet for months.

The MPAA argued that DeCSS violated the "anticircumvention" provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998. The preliminary injunctions were contested by the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which maintains that the MPAA is trying to suppress discussion of DVD insecurity, violating free-speech protections in the First Amendment. There have been no reported cases of consumers actually making unauthorized copies of DVDs using the software.

The EFF is leading the defense in another DVD case filed in California Dec. 28 by the DVD Copy Control Association Inc. (CCA), which accused 72 Web site operators of posting or linking to the DeCSS utility.

Morgan Hill, Calif.-based CCA initially sought a temporary restraining order against the Web site operators. After that was denied by a judge, the organization then sought a preliminary injunction against the Web site owners.

A hearing in the case took place earlier this week, but the judge hasn't issued a ruling.

EFF Executive Director Tara Lemmey said the cases aren't about piracy or hacking but "censorship of speech critical to science, education and innovation. Reverse-engineering of DVD security is legitimate and important for systems interoperability."

"We are disappointed in the judge's ruling. We fought the DMCA because we were afraid that it was going to gut fair use and it appears that in the judge's ruling, his interpretation of the law does gut fair use," said Shari Steele, director of legal services for the EFF.

Steele noted that the judge was going to hold another hearing on the merits of the case in the next few weeks and the EFF would continue to support the defendants.

"The next dangerous thing that we think could come from this judge is to make a ruling as to links. The movie industry is clearly going after folks who link to other sites [with DeCSS] and we think it's very scary that Web-site owners would be liable for linking to Web sites that they have no control over."

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