DOJ stands with film industry in DVD cracking case

Uncle Sam is siding with the movie industry in a case that prevents a magazine from posting and linking to software that makes it possible to decrypt DVD security.

3 min read
Uncle Sam is siding with the movie industry in a case that prevents a magazine from posting and linking to software that makes it possible to decrypt DVD security.

In a filing submitted to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York, the Justice Department lashed out at hackers and praised a lower court ruling that bans hacker magazine 2600 from publishing a code known as DeCSS.

"Despite defendants' efforts to pitch this case as a classic story of the gadfly press and to cast themselves in the role of the protagonist reporter who seeks only to convey truthful information to the pubic, this lawsuit is really about computer hackers and the tools of digital piracy," U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White wrote in the brief.

The federal government filed as an intervenor, meaning it wants to take a greater role in the case.

The document is one of several briefs expected to be filed this week on behalf of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), which sued hacker publication 2600 in January, saying that the posting of code enables people to copy DVDs and violate its copyrights.

In August, federal Judge Lewis Kaplan agreed with the MPAA's assertions and ruled that 2600 was breaking the law by linking to the code. The magazine is appealing the ruling, and the 2nd Circuit is in the process of collecting documents from both sides of the debate before it issues a ruling.

In its filing, the federal government urged the court to uphold Kaplan's decision and bashed the defendants' arguments that posting and linking to code are protected by the First Amendment. What's more, the government said, Kaplan properly enforced provisions of the controversial Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), a law passed by Congress that expands copyright holders' rights in the Digital Age.

"Until fairly recently, artists and authors had only to contend with the bootleg distribution of their works in hard-copy form; they now face the reality of uncontrollable, online infringement," the brief said.

The brief cited the "epidemic-like propagation of circumvention technology on the Internet" and the need to protect copyrighted material on the Web, even though nearly every link to DeCSS, which is by far the most popular such code, has been pulled off the Web. The filing characterized 2600--an underground tech magazine that crusades for hackers' rights and is also popular with cryptographers, journalists and free speech advocates--as a publication that teaches people how to steal domain names and break into computer systems.

It's not the first time the federal government has jumped into the digital copyright debate--and sided with the entertainment industry. Last summer, the U.S. Patent Office along with the Justice Department filed a brief in the Napster case, shooting down the company's defense that its file-swapping service is protected under fair use claims.

But 2600 has its share of supporters, too. In addition to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which is defending the publication, groups of journalists, cryptographers and librarians have come to the aid of the magazine. Those parties filed a series of briefs on behalf of 2600 two weeks ago, in an attempt to convince the appeals court that Kaplan's ruling is an overly broad restriction on free speech that threatens Web journalism and tech research.