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Advocacy group fights ruling on DVD cracking case

The Electronic Frontier Foundation asks a federal appeals court to overturn a ruling that bans a Web site from posting and linking to a software program that can crack DVD security.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is asking a federal appeals court to overturn a ruling that banned a Web site from posting and linking to a software program that can crack DVD security, saying the decision did "great violence" to the First Amendment.

In August, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York struck a major blow to online hacker publication 2600 by declaring it was illegal to publish information about--or hyperlinks to--a controversial program known as DeCSS.

DeCSS is a program that cracks the code designed to protect the content on DVDs from being copied--for either legal or illicit uses. The motion picture industry fears that the new technology could cause it to lose control of the distribution of its movies.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which is representing 2600 Enterprises, wants the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to reject the lower court's ruling as an "unconstitutional restraint on free speech" because it blocks people from using DeCSS for purposes that aren't illegal, such as criticism or reverse engineering for educational purposes.

The legal battle started when the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) sued 2600 and several other Web sites, saying that publishing information about DeCSS was illegal because it let people violate copyrights. Many of the other Web sites buckled and took down the code, but 2600 fought the suit.

Federal Judge Lewis Kaplan ruled in favor of the movie industry, calling the posting of the code a violation of copyright law and saying that linking to the code amounted to "trafficking."

That ruling has emboldened other companies to try to stop postings related to their products. For example, Sega has tried to shut down forums where hackers can review and trade information about the company's products, arguing that the forums let people get information about pirated products.

In its filing Friday, the EFF argued that Kaplan failed to take into account the First Amendment rights of news sites. It also says the ruling prohibits people from exercising their fair use rights, including using small sections of a movie for criticism or reverse engineering to create competing DVD players.

The EFF said it expects several amicus briefs to be filed next Friday from groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Digital Future Coalition, computer scientists and librarians.