A heated copyright dispute between the movie industry and a lone
Web publisher is reaching a boiling point.
A New York-based publisher is accused of posting a program that cracks security
on DVDs. Lawyers on both sides have been taking jabs at one another in a legal battle
that pits claims of digital copyright protections against constitutionally
protected free speech.
Today the players will be in court again. This time, attorneys defending
the publisher, Eric Corley, are asking the judge to punish the Motion
Picture Association of America (MPAA) for not producing critical witnesses
The association, meanwhile, has filed a request to disqualify Corley's
attorney, Martin Garbus of New York, on the grounds that he once represented
Time Warner in another case. Time Warner is the lead plaintiff in this
"It's Ethics 101--you can't go against your former client," quipped Mark
Litvack, vice president of legal affairs for the movie industry's Worldwide
Anti-Piracy Group. "We're looking forward for the judge to bring some order
to the process."
Garbus could not immediately be reached for comment.
The MPAA late last year sued Corley in federal court in New York around the
same time another group, the DVD Copy Control Association, launched a
similar complaint in Santa Clara County Superior Court in California against
72 Web operators and about 500 other unidentified defendants.
Both complaints allege that the offenders have broken copyright laws by
publishing a DVD descrambling program, called DeCSS, authored by a 16-year-old boy from Norway.
With the program, people can unlock the security on DVD movies and download
them onto unauthorized players such as computers running the Linux operating
system. Attorneys for the film industry said those movies can then be freely
exchanged among friends, though none of the defendants has been accused of
illegally swapping files.
Defense attorneys argue that programming language is protected speech and
that anyone who published the code on the Internet falls under the cloak of
First Amendment protections.
Nonetheless, on Jan. 20, the movie industry won a preliminary injunction
against Corley and his publication, 2600 Enterprises, requiring that he
remove the decrypting instructions from his Web site.
Garbus today will ask the judge to sanction MPAA attorneys for not
producing the organization's president, Jack Valenti, quickly enough for
"They keep telling us the code was used for piracy, and it's just not true; we
want the president to testify about what kind of evidence he has of a
copyright violation," said one source close to the defense.
But the association said Valenti's busy schedule--with the film festival in
Cannes, France--prevented him from being available for questioning until mid-June.
The matter is set for trial Dec. 5.