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Judge delays ruling on DVD copying case

Observers had been hoping that the judge would give definitive answers to challenges to the constitutionality of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

The Act has been cited by trade associations such as the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) in disputes over copying.

US District Judge Susan Illston did not rule whether DVD copying software was a legitimate method of making back-ups of films purchased by the user, or whether users could make such copies under ‘fair use’ legislation.

Although Judge Illston declined to name a date for when she would deliver a ruling, she did confirm that she was “substantially persuaded” to rule for the trade association.

She cited two recent similar cases: the MPAA versus hacker mag 2600, which published links to the infamous DeCSS tool invented by Norweigan teenager Jon Johansen; and the US government versus Russian firm ElcomSoft, which published a tool for cracking Adobe eBooks.

Essentially, the MPAA is alleging that making copies of DVDs for whatever reason infringes copyright and opens the way for bootleggers.

For the other side, software firm 321 Studios is arguing that the ‘fair use’ angle, which says that users should be able to make back-ups of legitimately purchased DVDs, is built into copyright law as a failsafe.

Meanwhile, a proposed amendment to the DMCA is being debated in a hearing being conducted by the US Copyright Office.

The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) has filed to press for an exemption to allow white hat hackers to crack copy protection schemes.

Failsafe measures already built into the DMCA allow for the cracking of censoring software to reveal which websites they block, and an exemption for the cracking of old computer programs and databases that have become unusable because of obsolete access mechanisms.

Jeff Grove, of the public policy committee at the ACM, insisted that the current exemptions are not sufficient.

“[The legislation] interferes with many legal, non-infringing uses of digital computing and prevents scientists and technologists from circumventing access technologies in order to recognise shortcomings in security systems, to defend patents and copyrights, to discover and fix dangerous bugs in code, or to conduct forms of desired educational activities,” he said.