Dramatic beginning to the DeCSS DVD-hacking case

As expected, the opening of the DeCSS case regarding tools to circumvent copy protection on DVD was heated and dramatic. While the MPAA tries on behalf of several movie studios to protect what’s rightfully theirs, hackers try with irrational explanations and excuses to legalize their actions without ever considering anything beyond their own, very limited radar, still trying to excuse themselves with claims that they only wanted to make DVD available on Linux platforms. Why you need to spread cracking utilities to do so is beyond me, as a simply Linux based software DVD player would have done the job, but I guess that just goes to show how absurd many of the excuses really are and how personal greed takes the backseat over ethics. Here’s an article on the subject from Hollywood Reporter’s Ian Mohr.

NEW YORK (The Hollywood Reporter) — Federal Judge Lewis Kaplan and a bevy of lawyers watched scenes from “Sleepless in Seattle” and “The Matrix” on a laptop computer in a New York courtroom Monday as the Hollywood studios launched their case against an unassuming, shaggy-haired Web site editor they claim trafficked a formula that cracks the encryption on DVDs. The MPAA, acting on behalf of Universal Pictures, the Walt Disney Co., Fox, Paramount, MGM, Time Warner Entertainment and Sony Entertainment, is seeking to stop computer hacker Eric Corley from making the DVD code breaker — known as DeCSS — available through his 2600.com Web site.

In a case that is being compared to the music industry’s efforts to stop unauthorized music downloads, the studios are seeking an end to Corley’s DeCSS Web postings and compensation for profits lost to DeCSS downloads (HR 7/17). Facing a packed courtroom — where teen computer hackers in anti-MPAA T-shirts rubbed elbows with attorneys and film industry executives — Kaplan began the day by forcefully rejecting a motion from defense lawyer Martin Garbus that Kaplan be removed from the case because of his former role as a legal consultant for Time Warner.

Ironically, the prosecution had unsuccessfully requested that Garbus be removed from the case for his former role as Time Warner legal counsel. Garbus, who has represented such celebrity clients as Spike Lee, Lenny Bruce, Robert Redford, Nelson Mandela and Vaclav Havel in First Amendment cases, has gone up against the MPAA on behalf of Miramax and October Films for NC-17 disputes.

The trial — which is expected to last two weeks and hear testimony from 14 witnesses — kicked off with a witness for the prosecution demonstrating to the court what he said were pirated copies of “Sleepless” and “Matrix.” Outside the court, about 30 anti-MPAA protesters from the New York Linux Users Group chanted and waved banners reading, “Your Rights Are on Trial,” “DeCSS Is legal, MPAA Is a Crime” and “I Want My Linux DVDs.” Linux is an alternative PC operating system.

Corley, whose “nom de Net” is Emmanuel Goldstein, is arguing that DeCSS is simply a tool that enthusiasts of alternative operating systems like Linux must use in order to play encrypted DVDs. Corley’s lawyers are also trying to prove that DeCSS is protected under free-speech laws. The prosecution’s first witness, Michael Schamos, co-director of the Institute for E-Commerce at Carnegie Melon University, told the court that he was able to break the encryption code of a store-bought DVD of “The Matrix” using DeCSS and trade it online for “Sleepless in Seattle” — a process he said took 20 hours on a 100 megabitcq computer system. Schamos said that as Internet connections become faster, the process will “mirror the same thing that has happened with Napster.” Schamos testified that he has seen the number of DVD titles online grow to “650, or 10% of all DVDs available in the U.S.” since January.

“As long as there’s a DVD (title) out there,“ said Schamos, ”people won’t stop (copying) them until they’re all (copied).” Although Schamos described DeCSS as an “easy-to-use” tool, Garbus chipped away at his testimony by suggesting the act of pirating a DVD is a painstaking process that “no one in their right mind” would do in lieu of simply buying the product. Garbus also challenged Schamos“ experiment in part by bringing an unexpected witness to the case — Schamos” college student assistant Eric Burns, who seemed to be the real expert on “ripping” DVDs. Garbus ended his cross-examination by pointing out that there are numerous other ways to decode DVDs besides DeCSS and that many titles cannot be cracked through DeCSS, including the entire Disney library.

“It was a good first day,” Corley — whose Web site is an extension of his 2600: The Hacker Quarterly magazine — told The Hollywood Reporter. “(This case) is not about piracy, it’s really a First Amendment issue. (The MPAA) wants to set precedent here so they can mandate how technology is used in what form. It used to be that the artists owned the work; now you have to play it in a certain way. You’ll have to play a Sony CD on a Sony player. Why is there a guy a block away from this courtroom selling videotapes that haven’t even come out in the theaters yet and no one cares?”

But MPAA lead prosecutor Leon Gold said that “as these cases are decided … we’ll convince the nation to morally honor copyright laws.”

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