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DVD-copying upstart fights illegal burns

In an odd twist in its fight against Hollywood studios, start-up 321 Studios is offering a reward for information about people who use its product to illegally copy DVDs.

    In an odd twist in its fight against Hollywood studios, start-up 321 Studios is offering a reward for information about people who use its products to illegally copy DVDs.

    The company last week began offering $10,000 for information that leads to the conviction of people who use its software to pirate movies.

    The major studios sued 321 last December, saying the company promotes copyright infringement by offering products that allow people to copy DVDs. Specifically, the suit claims 321 is violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act by selling its DVD Copy Plus and DVD-X copy programs.

    321 says it merely provides a product that will allow people to make backups of DVDs they already own, a practice that has been protected under a legal doctrine known as fair use.

    The company said it's committed to preventing illegal copying and uses technology that prevents consumers from duplicating copies of DVDs made with its software. People who want to report abuse of the software can e-mail 321 at AntiPiracy@321studios.com.

    "While we believe consumers should have the right to make perfect, personal-use backup copies of DVDs they already own, we are against the illegal use of our products," Mike Wozniak, chief information officer of 321 Studios, said in a statement. "Therefore, we want to work with the entertainment industry and the government to prevent piracy, while continuing to protect, support and preserve consumers' fair use rights and technical innovation."

    Movie studios, record labels and other intellectual property owners have been aggressively pursuing companies that make it easy for consumers to copy and share digital materials. The intellectual property owners are worried about losing control of their movie, music, books and software because digital content can be so easily copied and shared via the Internet. The studios in particular are trying to avoid the "Napsterization" of their movies.

    A few years ago, the record labels were caught off guard when millions of people began swapping unauthorized copies of songs through the Napster network. Although the labels succeeded in shuttering Napster, the file-swapping frenzy continues through other services.

    Meanwhile, the companies that have become the target of such legal actions have urged studios, labels and law enforcement to pursue the people who are actually creating the illegal copies, not the makers of the technology that allows them to do so.

    321's legal saga began well before the studios filed suit. Last spring, the company took pre-emptive action, asking a judge to declare its copying products legal. 321 feared it could be targeted by the studios after reading news accounts in which the Motion Picture Association of America threatened to sue it for offering copying products.