Linux users keep hammering the DeCSS issue, trying to make their point

According to an article that appeared on CNet, Linux users attacked the DVD industry on Friday, publicly debating the potentially far-ranging effects of pending litigation on the availability of an open-source DVD player on Linux. More than 150 members of the Linux community gathered at the Jacob Javits Center during the LinuxWorld show, worried about how the DVD industry’s lawsuit against supporters of the unlicensed Windows-based DVD player known as DeCSS will affect their own efforts to bring DVD to the Linux platform.

Last month a New York court granted the Motion Picture Association of America a preliminary injunction against three Web sites that had posted the source code to the DeCSS program, which potentially allows users to unlock DVD discs for viewing and copying. Cases in California and Norway added to the urgency of the open-source movement’s discussion. For Mark Traphagen, a Washington, D.C., attorney who aided in the formation of the controversial Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the issue is straightforward: DeCSS is technology used to steal content. “DeCSS decrypts DVD files,” he said. “There is no indication of any other purpose.”

In order to play DVDs the DeCSS program must decrypt the content, which is protected by a Content Scrambling System, or CSS. That puts DeCSS in violation of the DMCA, which makes illegal any device whose sole purpose is to circumvent copy protection, the attorney said.

“This is not a piracy issue,” said Eric Raymond, president of the nonprofit Open Source Initiative and the author of “The Cathedral and the Bazaar,” a book spelling out the advantages of open-source initiatives. “You can pirate DVDs by using a stamping press, which is happening right now in Asia. DVD encryption is not about piracy at all — it is solely a means to control the DVD player market.”

“There is no monopoly here,” said Allon E. Levy, an attorney with the San Jose, Calif.-based law firm of Huber Samuelson, who refuted the DVD industry’s position during a one-and-a-half hour panel discussion. “There should be no requirement for people to play their content on specific devices.” For Linux users and, specifically, the open-source Linux Video and DVD initiative, or LIVID, the results of the DeCSS cases could affect whether an open-source DVD player will ever be available on Linux.

For LIVID, the central issue is about “feature” control and interoperability, said Matthew Pavlovich, leader of the project. “It’s really about control over a technology (format),” he said. “Right now, consumers who buy a disc cannot fast-forward through the FBI announcement and advertisements.” Considering that consumers have already paid for the disc, that’s unfair, Pavlovich said. The DVD Copy Control Association, which manages the licensing of DVD format information to player manufacturers, requires inclusion of a DVD track that cannot be skipped, fast-forwarded or otherwise prevented from being viewed. The Disney animated movie “Tarzan” shows advertisements for new features in that track.

LIVID members bent over backward to stress that their efforts are not about piracy but about interoperability. “No one on our (project) channel is interested in pirating DVD content,” said Sean Lynch, another member of the LIVID group. “(In the past,) a person did come and post that he wanted to get the code to break DVD encryption and he was flamed off our (development) board.” Currently, no company provides the Linux community with a DVD player, and the idea of providing an open-source version of the player is verboten for most companies. “Open source is a leap of faith,” said Marshall Goldberg, director of marketing for Sigma Designs Inc., a hardware company that showed off an unannounced Linux-based DVD player in its booth.

The company, which is licensed by the DVD Copy Control Association, plans to sell its hardware-based player to the Linux community but would not release pricing or availability. Currently the company’s Windows-based board and software have a street price of about $75. The company has also been attacked by the open-source community for not making its code “open.” It took Sigma Designs three years to create the technology, and Goldberg stressed that they intend to play by all the rules. Still, parts of the code will be made available to the Linux community as long as it does not violate the company’s agreement.

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