Movie group renews accusations in DVD cracking case

The MPAA takes another step in its relentless pursuit to silence a lone Web operator accused of willfully distributing a program that cracks security on DVDs.

3 min read
A movie industry trade group has taken another step in its relentless pursuit to silence a lone Web operator accused of willfully distributing a program that cracks security on DVDs.

On Jan. 20, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) obtained a court order prohibiting Eric Corley and two other defendants from posting instructions for cracking DVD security on their Web sites.

This morning, the trade group filed a renewed request against Corley and his company, 2600 Enterprises, in New York, seeking yet another ruling to prevent him from directing his visitors to other Web sites that unlawfully publish the program.

"He was trying to get around the judge's opinion, and we're seeking to stop him from this evasive act," said Mark Litvack, vice president of legal affairs for the trade group's Worldwide Anti-Piracy program.

After the judge ordered Corley to remove the material from his site, Corley encouraged about 300 other Web operators to post the code so that he could direct visitors to their Internet addresses, Litvack said.

Corley's attorney, Martin Garbus of New York, called the litigation a clear-cut free speech issue, citing several other cases that have prevailed under the constitutional defense. Trial in the matter is scheduled to begin the first week of December. The other two defendants have agreed to settle the copyright case.

Today's action comes a day after free speech lawyers appealed a court order in a similar case in California against 72 people.

At the same time, civil libertarians and members of the Internet community have gained hope for their cause after a federal appeals court yesterday found that computer code qualifies as speech protected by the First Amendment.

Attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union and other advocates say that the DVD descrambling program, called DeCSS, authored by a 16-year-old Norwegian boy, is a form of expression and that all of those who posted the information on the Internet fall under the cloak of constitutional protection.

It remains unclear, however, what bearing the federal appellate court ruling will have on these so-called decrypting cases.

"Computer codes are not protected speech when one has a legitimate interest in protecting one's product," Litvack said. "They found the key to our code. It's like going into a bank and yelling out the vault code for everyone to steal rampantly."

The MPAA sued the three defendants 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 the 72 Web operators.

Both complaints charged that the offenders were breaking copyright laws by publishing the program that allowed people to view digital movies on unauthorized players, such as computers running the Linux operating system.

With the program, people can download a DVD movie onto their computers and theoretically keep it stored there for life. Litvack said those movies can then be freely exchanged among friends, though none of the defendants have been accused of illegally swapping files.