DVD cracking case heats up

The movie industry and a lone Web publisher continue to face off in a legal battle that pits claims of digital copyright protections against constitutionally protected free speech.

2 min read
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 quickly enough.

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 matter.

"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 questioning.

"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.