A group of lawyers for the DVD Copy Control Association yesterday applied for a restraining order against a group of 72 programmers and World Wide Web sites, seeking to prohibit the distribution of software that breaks the digital movie format's security system.
If the association, which represents both the motion picture and consumer electronics industries, prevails, the injunction will prohibit anyone from posting any DVD-copying software--or even linking to a Web site offering such a program.
The lawsuit, filed in California Superior Court in Santa Clara County, is a response to a program called DeCSS, which was written several weeks ago by a small group of hackers to defeat the encryption used to protect DVDs from being copied. With the program, which was first posted online by a 16-year-old Norwegian student in October, computers equipped with a DVD-ROM drive can be used to record--or "rip"--a copy of a DVD-formatted movie.
The suit--which the Morgan Hill, Calif.-based organization has requested be heard this morning--contends that distribution of the tiny utility program could be a severe blow to the DVD industry.
"DVD encryption technology was (and is) critical to the adoption and utilization of the DVD format," it reads. "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."
If granted, the restraining order could also be used to prohibit the posting of the DeCSS program at other Web sites.
The suit probably didn't surprise the distributors of this program; the complaint cites references to "lawyers and other scum" and "trained weasels" at DeCSS-posting Web sites as proof that defendants were aware of potential legal ramifications.
But in addition to the programmers of DeCSS, the suit also lists as defendants such Web sites as Slashdot. While Slashdot (slashdot.org) is the sort of Web site a well-read hacker might bookmark, it's primarily a technology news site. The suit also targets the Deja.com site, which archives postings to Usenet discussion groups. In both cases, the suit objects to links that take a Web visitor to locations from which DeCSS can be downloaded.
Rob Malda, one of Slashdot's founders, seized on that argument in expressing little concern about the suit yesterday. "Ever hear of the First Amendment?" he said. "We're the media. We can say things." He wrote in a separate e-mail message: "If linking to data is ever ruled a liable offense, then the Web is effectively worthless. I think the courts will recognize this."
Lawyers for the DVD Copy Control Association said they cannot comment on the case until after the court has reached a decision.
Some hackers claim that the development of DeCSS was motivated not to make illegal copies of DVD movies but by the lack of DVD playback software for the Linux operating system. Jon Johansen, the 16-year-old Norwegian student who first posted the DeCSS program on his Web site, said by e-mail yesterday that he met the other two authors of DeCSS through an Internet Relay Chat channel devoted to the DVD format. He said he had long been bothered by the fact that there was no DVD player available for the Linux operating system.
Johansen wrote that his parents have only laughed at the legal attention their son's hobbies have generated so far. As of late yesterday, his Web site still linked to a downloadable copy of DeCSS.
CAPTION: The DVD movie format includes anti-copy protection.