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Court Allows DVD Hacker Software



Updated: Fri, Nov 02 4:03 PM EST

By RON HARRIS, Associated Press Writer

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Using the Internet to publish software code used for decrypting and copying digital movies is protected by the First Amendment as an expression free speech, a California appeals court ruled.


The San Jose-based 6th District Court of Appeal found Thursday that Andrew Bunner's publishing of links to a software program called DeCSS on his Web site represented "pure speech" protected under the First Amendment.


The three-judge panel's overturned a lower court injunction barring the program from being published by the defendants, though it is still widely available on various Internet Web sites.




"Regardless of who authored the program, DeCSS is a written expression of the author's ideas and information about the decryption of DVDs," the judges wrote.


DeCSS allows users to unlock the security code on DVDs and copy the movies to personal computers.


Bunner and several others were sued in December of 1999 by the DVD Copy Control Association, a trade association of businesses in the movie industry, for allegedly violating trade secrets.


Bunner and the other defendants maintained DeCSS was merely created to allow DVDs to be viewable on computers running the Linux operating system for which there were no legal DVD decoder programs.


One of the movie industry's fears was that once the video files could be extracted from DVDs, they could be pirated like MP3 music files over the Internet using file-swapping software such as Napster. The large size of the video files made that impractical at first, but now several programs are available that compress those large video files to one-tenth their original size.


Entire movies can now be downloaded over file-sharing networks and burned to writeable CDs thanks to DeCSS.


The court acknowledged that DeCSS contains the trade secret algorithms to decode DVDs, but still ruled against the industry, saying the code did not fall into any of the established free speech exceptions such as being lewd or libelous.


"Although the social value of DeCSS may be questionable, it is nonetheless pure speech," the court wrote.


The DVDCCA said it would appeal the decision.


A federal appeals court is weighing the same issue. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York is reviewing a federal judge's order prohibiting a Web site creator from posting codes that unscramble DVD encryption.
 

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All though I can't disagree with what the court ruled, I believe what we will see is a frenzy of some type of protection over such information. Would it be wrong for anyone say to post directions on how to access a bank's electronically transfer system via decrypting schema? I didn't say provide information on how to rob a bank all though one could use it to do so. Just like the drug enforcement in this country, if a person publishes a manual on how to make it there isn't a whole heck of a lot they can do about it unless they break the law. This reminds me of a story I read numerous years ago where, if I recall correctly, the city wanted to arrest a citizen for something they were doing on their property. The moment that person stepped in the public right of way outside their home they were arrested for the lude act. We can thank teflon Bill for messing with 200 years worth of Copyright laws.
 

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The CSS encryption does absolutely nothing to protect against piracy. What it does do, however, is protect the DVD-CCA's revenue stream of licenses. Simply, CSS was designed to amas license fees from hardware manufacturers. DeCSS breaks this encryption so that anybody can watch a DVD.


The problem is that these systems are inherently weak to begin with. If someone were to figure out how ATM encryption works and document it the flaws, I'm all for it. This would certainly make the ATM industry move to tighten up its systems. Yes, it would cost a lot of money but it would, nonetheless, lead to a far more bullet-proof system. If these ATMs were using extremely weak encryption, as a consumer I would want to know about it and I would want the manufacturer to take every step to fix the problem and not sue the people who found the weakness.


This is essentially like an automobile manufacturer suing everybody who reported a problem that lead to a recall.


On the software front, this is a major step in the right direction in the DeCSS case. Now we just need a court to get the DMCA tossed out.


-- Robert
 
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