NEW YORK (Billboard) - There's a war raging in cyberspace, and this time it is the movie industry that's feeling the heat.
The U.S. Supreme Court reversed an emergency stay on a case involving DVD descrambling Jan. 3.
In so doing, the high court affirmed a decision of the California Supreme Court, which had ruled that the entertainment industry could not force a Texas resident who had published DVD descrambling software on the Internet to stand trial in California.
This means that the defendant, Matthew Pavlovich, who posted the software called DeCSS, is able to distribute the program online.
DeCSS, which is distributed for free, enables people to play DVDs without technological restrictions, such as forced watching of commercials imposed by movie studios. The program became popular shortly after its dubious debut, being distributed online by thousands of individuals worldwide the first year it was posted.
To the high court, it is a question of geography: The court says Pavlovich cannot be sued in California because he is a Texas resident who does not have "substantial ties" to the Golden State.
Pavlovich's legal woes began in 1999, when a group of film studios and consumer electronics makers sued hundreds of people, including Pavlovich, for distributing DeCSS online, citing a violation of California trade secret laws. A state judge ruled for the plaintiffs and granted an injunction.
Three years later, the California Supreme Court ruled that Pavlovich could not be sued for violating state trade secrets simply because he knew that his actions could hurt the state's film industry.
In the latest ruling, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor lifted the injunction, saying there was no need to keep DeCSS a secret.
Internet groups wholeheartedly support the decision.
"The entertainment companies should stop pretending that DeCSS is a secret," says Cindy Cohn, legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
"The Supreme Court wisely recognized that there is no need for an emergency stay to prevent Mr. Pavlovich from publishing DeCSS," Cohn adds.
The decision affects numerous defendants, but the sole California resident is Andrew Bunner.
Bunner isn't fighting the jurisdictional issue but is arguing that he has a First Amendment right to distribute the software.
A California appeals court in 2001 agreed, saying that barring Bunner from future disclosures of DeCSS was "a restraint on First Amendment right."
Bunner's case is awaiting an argument date before the California Supreme Court.
A similar case in Europe already has been resolved.
Norwegian teenager Jon Johansen was acquitted Jan. 7 of criminal charges for writing and publishing DeCSS.
In 1999, 15-year-old Johansen published DeCSS on the Internet. He used the program to watch his own DVDs on his Linux computer.
Under tremendous pressure from the Motion Picture Assn. of America, the Norwegian Economic Crime Unit charged Johansen with violating a Norwegian criminal code that outlaws breaking into another person's locked property to gain access to privileged data.
The case was the first time the Norwegian government had attempted to punish an individual for accessing his own property.
SAN JOSE, Calif. - In a rare retreat, a film industry coalition has dropped its trade secret court battle against a San Francisco computer programmer who in 1999 posted on the Internet code that cracks movie copy-protection technology.
But the coalition promised more battles ahead.
"We are not backing off," Robert Sugarman, an attorney for the DVD Copy Control Association, said Friday. "We are exploring different routes."
The association, an arm of Hollywood studios, sued Andrew Bunner and hundreds of others four years ago, claiming their Web postings of the DVD encryption-cracking code violated the California Uniform Trade Secrets Act and helped users replicate thousands of copyright movies per day.
In papers filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court and the 6th District Court of Appeal in San Jose on Wednesday, the association requested a case dismissal.
The move came one month after an appellate court in Norway upheld the acquittal of Jon Johansen, the Norwegian teen who actually cracked the DVD encryption code. He had been charged with data break-in.
Sugarman said the Norwegian acquittal was not a factor in the decision.
The Bunner case was but one battle in the larger war the movie industry has waged in trying to prevent what it considers unauthorized usage of its content. Other legal tactics include lawsuits over alleged copyright law violations, as well as stepped up enforcement of illegal recording in movie theaters.
Dropping the case against Bunner reflects only a shift in legal strategy, the DVD association said in a statement. It said it is considering taking action to enforce patents on its encryption technology.
The movie industry also hopes to win its other pending legal battles, namely a copyright case against 321 Studios Inc., the maker of a popular DVD-copying software program.
In the Bunner case, which became a battleground of trade secret rights versus free speech, a San Jose judge ordered the 26-year-old programmer to remove the decryption code - known as DeCSS - from his Internet site.
An appellate court ruling later lifted that injunction but was then overturned in August by the California Supreme Court, which sided with the DVD association, saying removal of the code did not violate constitutional free speech clauses.
Still unresolved, however, was the question of whether the code constituted a protected trade secret given its widespread exposure.
Bunner's attorneys with the Electronic Frontier Foundation heralded the DVD association's dropping of the case as a victory.
"We think that this case was always a weak trade secret claim," said Gwen Hinze, an EFF staff attorney. The DeCSS code "is not a trade secret. It's been available all around the world on hundreds of thousands of Web sites since 1999."
Bunner was the only one among hundreds sued who actively defended the trade secret lawsuit, Sugarman said, but a dismissal will mean all the others will also be off the hook.
Bunner maintained that his actions were lawful and that he put the information on the Web to allow others to play DVDs on their computers and not just on their DVD players.
I have had for years but the thing is so long, his ring go a hold of it by CCP
I used to be good at HTML, but I have been on computer since last July.
There are web sites that still give it out if your willing to use month of sundays worth of cheap paper to print it all up. CSS stands for Content Scrambling System, I don't know what the DE stands for; I know it's to remove the key from any flagged with CSS or Red Stripe so you can record every DVD as long as your mod DVD recorder is all Region enabled. I know about it but I buy legal discs, I don't want my first trip to the slammer and a $500,000 fine or both if the Judge is in a bad mood by using gibberish.
Originally posted by Bionic Manaus There are web sites that still give it out if your willing to use month of sundays worth of cheap paper to print it all up..
Hardly...the DeCSS code consists of about 200 lines of C and data and can easily fit on 3 pages. (I'm assuming that "month of sundays worth of cheap paper" means "a lot of paper"?)
I also hear that it's been done in 6 lines of Perl.
And the 'De' in DeCSS is used as a negation prefix as in 'deodorize', 'delouse', 'detox', 'deactivate', 'depopulate', and 'debone'. Use it in a sentence like: "He DeCSSed (removed the CSS encryption from) the DVD using that little utility that is making Mr. Valenti's life a living hell."
These cases have little significance to us here because they involve the first amendment, not copyrights or the DMCA. The jurisdictional issue is totally irrelevant to us. The restrictions on free speech also are irrelevant, because although they can't enjoin the speech (which is fundamental to the first amendment, that there be no prior restraints), you can sure as hell punish it if it is considered trafficking in anti-circumvention technology. So that's probably why they haven't gotten much publicity.
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