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MP3.com yanks song with illegal DVD-hacking code

The popular music Web site removes the file, which sounds like a 1960s sit-in protest song and includes the banned computer code known as DeCCS.

Joseph Wecker's song about a binary computer code wasn't exactly a chart-topper, but he doesn't think MP3.com should have banned it.

The popular music Web site today removed the song, in which Wecker, sounding more than a little like a 1960s sit-in protester, sings a version of the banned computer code known as DeCSS.

In an email to Wecker, MP3.com cited the nature of the music lyrics for the song's eradication. "Your song has either a song title or lyrics that are offensive or otherwise inappropriate," the company wrote.

"Since there is a precedent holding (2600.com) culpable for posting the code, we felt it was in our best interest to remove it," an MP3.com spokesman said in an interview.

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has filed lawsuits seeking to outlaw the code, calling it a hack of its DVD encryption scheme aimed at making and distributing illegal copies of digital films. A federal judge in New York last month agreed, banning hacker publication 2600.com from publishing or linking to the code online.

The song, called DeCSS.MP3, offers an English-language rendition of computer code that, depending on whom you ask, is either a harmless exercise in experimental software engineering or a missile aimed at the heart of Hollywood. Either way, DeCSS has become a flash point in the head-on collision between digital technologies and copyright owners, much as Napster has for the music industry.

The programmers who wrote the code insist DeCSS was designed to play legally purchased movie DVDs on computers running the Linux operating system--a format not supported by the movie industry. They say the code is a form of speech and is protected by the First Amendment--a claim many DeCSS supporters have rushed to validate by churning out artistic and other nonfunctioning works based on the DeCSS source code.

Wecker said he sang the DeCSS code as a way to attract attention to the issue.

"It's gone one step too far," Wecker said. "It's illegal to photocopy a copyrighted poem. But now it's like it has become illegal to tell someone how the Xerox works."

Other protesters have published portions of DeCSS on T-shirts and have recorded dramatic readings of the code. Some have used the code to create images in graphics files. Pro-DeCSS supporters say these demonstrations don't contain the full source code necessary to decode a DVD, a popular digital home movie format.

"I find it very disturbing that I live in a country where singing source code may be technically illegal--kind of chilling," Wecker said. "My song is just like the T-shirts. The T-shirts don't even have enough code to decode a DVD."

MP3.com, meanwhile, is wrestling with its own copyright troubles. A federal judge last week found that the company willfully infringed the copyrights of Universal Music Group in creating an online database of some 80,000 CDs for use with its My.MP3.com music locker service. The company could be on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.