Judge Says "No" to DVD Copy Control Association

A Santa Clara County Superior Court judge has denied a request for a temporary restraining order against 72 computer enthusiasts brought by the DVD Copy Control Association. The computer folk were accused of distributing a string of code, called DeCSS, that enables them to play DVD movies on Linux-based machines and thereby violate intellectual property laws. Linux is user-developed software widely perceived as a possible competitor to Microsoft's Windows.

DeCSS decrypts DVD copy controls, allowing the contents of a disc to be transferred to a computer's hard disk—and, possibly, to other computers via the Internet. The code is available at more than 10,000 websites, according to Reuters news service. A 16-year-old Linux user from Norway, Jon Johansen, wrote the code based on encryption "keys" left exposed by Xing Technology, and posted it on the Internet in October. Johansen's research was instrumental in the delayed release of DVD-Audio players, originally scheduled for this month.

Judge William J. Elfving's courtroom was the scene of outrageous antics as Linux supporters gave away copies of the code on paper and on CDs—even to lawyers for the plaintiffs. One lawyer accepted a disc and paper copy and promptly entered them as evidence. "This is what we're talking about," he said.

Linux supporters pointed out that the code does not enable the copying of DVDs, only their playback on non-Windows machines. "There is nothing about the software that makes it possible to duplicate DVDs," explained programmer Rick Moen. Legal counsel for the defendants was provided by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The DVD Copy Control Association consists of film studios, software companies, and electronics manufacturers with a vested interest in the security of the DVD format. "Without such copy protection, the motion-picture companies would not have allowed their copyrighted motion pictures to be available in this new digital video format. Without motion-picture content, there would be no viable market for computer DVD drives and DVD players," read the association's official complaint.

The legal wrangle occupied Judge Elfving's court most of the last week of December. On Wednesday, December 29, he denied without comment the association's request for a temporary restraining order against the dissemination of the DeCSS code. The threat to the entertainment industry really isn't there yet, as defendants pointed out. Downloading a DVD with present Internet connect speeds would take several days, and recordable DVDs available to consumers have only about half the data capacity of commercial discs.