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Free speech touted in DVD cracking case

Civil liberties lawyers ask a federal judge to lift an order against a Web operator accused of directing visitors to sites that show how to crack DVD security.

Civil liberties lawyers today asked a New York federal judge to lift an order against a Web operator accused of directing visitors to other Internet sites that publish instructions on cracking DVD security.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed this morning's request after a movie industry trade group sought to further silence Eric Corley and his New York company, 2600 Enterprises.

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) had obtained a court order Jan. 20 prohibiting Corley and two other defendants from posting the cracking code on the Internet. The association's attorney said Corley tried to get around the order by encouraging about 300 other Web operators to publish the instructions so that he could direct visitors to their Internet addresses.

That's when the movie industry sought yet another ruling, directing their complaint against linking. The other two defendants, meanwhile, agreed to settle their case.

In today's court papers, Corley's attorneys called the industry's move a clear violation of free speech, citing several other cases that have prevailed under the First Amendment defense.

"To prevent a Web news organization such as 2600 Enterprises from linking to other news on the Web is an unprecedented restraint on speech," said Robin Gross, an EFF attorney.

Movie industry attorneys could not immediately be reached for comment.

The MPAA sued in federal court in New York late last year, about the same time another group representing the movie industry, the DVD Copy Control Association, launched its lawsuit in Santa Clara County Superior Court in California against 72 Web operators and about 500 unidentified defendants.

Both complaints charged that the offenders were breaking copyright laws by publishing a DVD descrambling program, called DeCSS, authored by a 16-year-old Norwegian boy.

With the program, people can download a DVD movie onto unauthorized players, such as computers running the Linux operating system, and theoretically keep it stored there for life. Attorneys for the film industry said those movies can then be freely exchanged among friends, though none of the defendants have been accused of illegally swapping files.

Next week, attorneys representing the large group of defendants in the California matter will file an appeal against a court order that had been previously issued. That lawsuit has been postponed, allowing the DVD Copy Control Association more time to identify some of the many John Does in the case.

The case against Corley in New York, on the other hand, is scheduled to start Dec. 5.