Deadline Nears For Media Comments On DVD Case 06/02/00

Deadline Nears For Media Comments On DVD Case 06/02/00 – Industry Trend or Event

David McGuire

WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S.A., 2000 JUN 2 (NB) An attempt by the powerful Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to keep journalists out of the courtroom in a pivotal upcoming DVD-encryption case has met with staunch opposition, as media organizations rally to submit briefs on the motion ahead of today’s deadline.

Last week, the MPAA asked a US District Court Judge in New York to bar news organizations from viewing some portions of the upcoming court proceedings, citing, among other things, threats to MPAA employees’ safety stemming from the high-profile nature of the case. The judge, who is set to rule on the motion June 6, gave media organizations until today to submit their comments on the MPAA proposal.

The MPAA motion is just the latest salvo in an increasingly ugly litigation that some observers are touting as one of the most important First Amendment cases of the digital age. The MPAA is suing a New York Web site operator for posting copies of DVD encryption codes, demanding that those postings, and any links to similar information, be removed from the offending site.

Defenders of the New York Web site operator decried the MPAA’s latest legal maneuver, scoffing at the alleged concerns about employee safety.

“I think it’s just a smokescreen, because they really don’t want the public to have access to these court proceedings,” Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) attorney Robin Gross told Newsbytes today. “I guess they’ve got something to hide.” The EFF, a San Francisco-based civil liberties group, is defending the New York Web site operator and is representing defendants in similar cases in California and Connecticut.

But MPAA spokesperson Richard Taylor said today that the threats to MPAA employees are very real. “We’ve had people in the past physically assaulted” in piracy cases, Taylor said. ‘

Also, the MPAA did not ask the judge in the case to close the trial, only to prevent the press from sitting in on pre-trial depositions, Taylor said.

The MPAA has made EFF fight for every inch of ground in the New York case, calling for a string of injunctions against the defendant and even moving to have the EFF’s lead counsel removed from the case.

For the EFF attorneys, many of whom are pursuing the case on a pro-bono basis, the unending string of obstacles and stumbling blocks thrown up by the MPAA has been aggravating, Gross said.

“This is really one of their tactics to try to frustrate the process and frustrate our lawyers,” Gross said. “They are fighting this very hard because this is a change in technology that is really going to force them to (alter their) business model.”

But Taylor contended that every motion raised by the MPAA has been substantive, adding that the MPAA will do everything it can to protect itself and its members from piracy.

The encryption codes allow computer users to de-scramble digital quality DVDs and replicate them at will, according to the MPAA.

But while the MPAA argues that the DVD encryption codes are “trade secrets” and as such deserve special protection under the law, the EFF argues that the Web site operator named in the New York case was exercising constitutionally protected rights of free expression by posting the widely available information.

The EFF further contends that the encryption codes do not meet the minimum standard for a trade secret.

Many of the attempts to break the DVD industry’s Content Scrambling System (CSS) stem from the fact that no DVD viewing devices have been licensed for computers running Linux and other alternative operating systems. The tech-savvy Linux community responded by working to break the protocols and develop its own devices.

When those codes began to be widely posted online, the MPAA and DVD industry reacted swiftly, suing more than 50 Web site operators in California and three in New York. Two of the defendants in the New York case settled out of court.

Because the case deals with issues central to how First Amendment rights apply to Internet postings and discussion groups, media organizations have focused a keen eye on the DVD-encryption proceedings. A number of journalists have filed comments urging the judge to keep the proceedings open.

The MPAA has posted information on the DVD case at and the EFF also hosts an extensive archive at .

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