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DeCSS program Disc-Copying
is Legal
It's Easy To Make & Sell Bootleg DVDs In Asia!

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Court Rules Distribution Of A Disc-copying Program on the Internet is not illegal. --
It's A Form of Free Speech

A California appeals court dealt a major blow to the movie industry's effort to thwart DVD piracy, ruling that distributing a disc-copying program on the Internet is not illegal.

The three-judge panel found that because computer programs constitute a form of speech, they are protected by the 1st Amendment. The decision strikes down a preliminary injunction issued by a lower court.

"Although the social value of DeCSS may be questionable, it is nonetheless pure speech," the panel wrote of the disc-copying program. The DVD Copy Control Assn. Inc., the movie industry group that brought the suit, said it will appeal the decision. The injunction will remain in effect until the case is heard by the California Supreme Court.

"If this decision is upheld, it would be a disaster, not just for DVDs or the film industry but to the entire U.S. technology industry," said Jeffrey L. Kessler, one of the lawyers representing the association.

Attorneys for both sides stressed that the 6th District appeals court's decision, handed down Thursday evening, does not legalize pirating DVDs. But it does allow Internet users to distribute the program to others.

"All this says is you can't stop people from sharing publicly available information," said David Greene, a member of the legal team that opposed the movie industry's suit. "The movie industry can still take legal action against people who use DeCSS. They can prosecute those violations under copyright law."

The decision is a milestone in the murky debate about publishers' control over digitized books, music and movies.

Although previous court rulings also have held that computer code is a protected form of speech, Thursday's decision is one of the first that has gone against the movie industry, which in the last three years has won judicial support for its campaign to impose ever-stricter conditions on how consumers use digital material.

The case revolves around the complex system of technological locks built by the movie industry to prevent consumer copying of DVDs.

Studios largely tolerated consumers who copied videotapes because each copy was less perfect than the previous copy and consumers couldn't mass-produce pirated tapes.

Information on DVDs, however, can be perfectly copied over and over. To prevent copying, the movie industry developed a system called CSS, which encrypted the information on a disc.

At least that was the plan. In 1999, a program called DeCSS, allegedly developed by a Norwegian computer programmer, appeared on the Internet. The program could break the encryption on DVDs.

Many Internet users, including the defendant, Andrew Bunner, found copies of the DeCSS program on the Internet and posted them on their Web sites.

The DVD Copy Control Assn. sued Bunner and dozens of others who had done the same thing.

The association argued that distributing the DeCSS program was illegal under California's Uniform Trade Secrets Act, claiming that DeCSS was based on the industry's secret encryption method. The association won a preliminary injunction in January 2000 barring distribution of DeCSS.

Bunner appealed the injunction, claiming that the 1st Amendment protected his right to distribute the software. He did not claim any right to use it to copy DVD movies, which would be a crime.

The appeals court agreed. "The California Legislature is free to enact laws to protect trade secrets, but these provisions must bow to the protections offered by the 1st Amendment," the court ruled.

Kessler scoffed at the court's reasoning. "Basically, the court held California's trade secrets law unconstitutional," he said.

Opponents of the movie industry's efforts to restrict the distribution of DeCSS expressed relief about the outcome, though most were aware that the legal battle probably will drag on for years.

David S. Touretzy, principal scientist in the computer science department at Carnegie Mellon University, said the movie industry has tried to make it seem as if digital material is different from everything else, such as a book, a speech or Grandmother's recipes, which are fully protected by the Constitution.

"If this were not overturned, it would be saying that there are categories of speech that aren't fully protected," he said. "This idea that you can distinguish between what's computer code and what's not is incomprehensible to a computer scientist. There isn't any rational way to draw a line."

Pirate DVD Operation Reported By MPAA. "The Thai plant was producing bootleg copies probably bound for English-speaking countries", Says LA TIMES

Police in Thailand for the first time have uncovered an underground factory that produced illegal DVDs, increasing movie industry fears about the rapid rise of DVD piracy.

The Motion Picture Assn. of America said Wednesday that its anti-piracy unit in Thailand accompanied the Royal Thai police on a raid this week of the factory about 15 miles from Bangkok. Five people were arrested, the MPAA said.

At the factory, police found two production lines and an underground rail tunnel used by the pirates to secretly cart the illegal discs to a second building, where they were packaged for shipping. The pirates had been stamping out copies of "Bridget Jones's Diary," "The Mummy Returns" and "Final Fantasy."

"This is the first time we have seized an optical disc line that has been manufacturing DVDs illegally in Thailand," said Ken Jacobsen, director of the MPAA's Worldwide Anti-Piracy Office. He said many of the bootlegged movies seized this week were probably destined for the U.S., Britain, South Africa and other English-speaking countries. Movie piracy costs Hollywood an estimated $3 billion a year. In 1999, the MPAA assisted in the confiscation of 600,000 illegal DVDs in Asia. Last year, the number swelled to 1.9 million, and more than 2 million DVDs had been seized through August of this year, Jacobsen said.

In recent years, anti-piracy sleuths in Asia seized mostly illegally produced movies on video compact discs, an inferior format popular in Asia. Studios released legal copies of movies on the VCD format in Asia but not in the U.S. and Europe, Jacobsen said. "We are beginning to see a shift from VCD to DVD pirates," Jacobsen said. "We're seeing the copies come back into the U.S., and into Europe, South Africa and the Middle East. That's our newest concern, and a very substantial concern."

The Thai factory had two production lines, one for VCDs and the second for DVDs. Thai police confiscated 3,000 VCDs, including copies of "Dr. Dolittle 2" and "The Mummy Returns;" 7,000 DVDs, including "Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace"; more than 1,000 music CDs, 1,000 software CDs and about 3,000 pirated movies released by small and independents studios.

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