DVD copy fight heats up
By Greg Wright
Gannett News Service
Movie studios want federal authorities to shutter Web sites that sell software that lets consumers copy DVDs, but legal experts said closing the sites could be easier said than done.
"At the end of the day ... it's going to be either the courts or even Congress that may reconsider this issue and have the last word," said professor Peter Jaszi, an Internet and copyright law expert at American University in Washington, D.C.
Motion Picture Association of America executives asked the FBI and Justice Department last month to investigate several Web sites that sell the software for around $40, said Ken Jacobsen, the association's worldwide anti-piracy director in Encino, Calif.
The association wouldn't identify the sites it's targeting, but said they began e-mail advertising campaigns in December.
The Web sites violate the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, Jacobsen says. Under that law, studios are allowed to put anti-piracy coding on DVDs.
Web sites, including the site of hacker quarterly 2600 (www.2600.org), have distributed the De-Content Scramble System or DeCSS, which cracks DVD copy protection, since 1999, when it was first introduced by a 16-year-old hacker from Norway. Some of these sites also provide hands-on instructions for less-technical PC users, which walk them through the process of breaking the DVD code, transferring huge digital video and audio files to a computer hard drive and burning a duplicate onto blank DVDs or CDs.
Companies such as CopyMyDVD.com and DVD Wizard (copy-dvd-wizard.com) sell software that makes DVD duplication easy. "Save money and never have to buy a DVD again," reads an advertisement on the DVD Wizard site.
Motion Picture Association staffers have tried several DVD copying products advertised on the Web and they work, Jacobsen said, adding that officials at companies who are selling the software could be liable for up to $500,000 in fines and a five-year prison sentence under the 1998 law.
But officials at one site, St. Louis-based CopyMyDVD.com, said they are doing nothing wrong. Consumers have the right to copy their DVDs for personal use under the 1992 Home Audio Recording Act, CopyMyDVD spokesman Dion Cini said.
Cini also said duplicated DVDs are inferior to the original copies in terms of image and sound quality, so they should be exempt from laws protecting DVDs.
"We are not making an exact replica of a DVD," he said. "It's not a complete and legitimate product."
The argument over the right to copy DVDs is a legal minefield, American University's Jaszi said. If the software is being sold primarily to rip off DVDs, the Motion Picture Association has a good argument, he said.
On the other hand, some groups are challenging the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, claiming it may infringe on First Amendment rights and the Home Audio Recording Act, he said.
"In the meantime, there is going to be a lot of litigation around claims of this kind," Jaszi said.