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how to get sued by motion picture corporations and win
e-piracy )
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Here is a surefire method to use your PC to get motion picture corporations to sue you:

1. Get DeCSS.

2. Put DeCSS on the Internet.

3. Inform the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) that you are distributing DeCSS.

4. Casually disregard all threatening letters from the MPAA, except your court order.

Yes, in only minutes you can be poised to get sued by motion picture corporations. Ask Shawn Reimerdes, Eric Corley, and Emmanuel Goldstein, who were sued in January by Universal Studios, Paramount Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Tristar Pictures, Columbia Pictures, Time Warner Entertainment, Disney Enterprises, and the Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All of them at once.

So why is this method surefire? Piracy. The MPAA says that losses incurred from pirated VHS movies are over three billion dollars a year. They are especially concerned with DVD, identified by every motion picture corporation as a significant revenue source. Since DVDs are digital, you can theoretically copy movies to your computer, and then send them over the Internet to your closest 100 million friends (mp3s!). But a great deal of money has been sunk into preventing you from doing so, resulting in the Content Scrambling System (CSS).

All store-bought DVDs are encrypted with the CSS trade secret method and its 400 keys. Every company that sells DVD players bought a CSS license, the right to a key. The idea behind having 400 keys was that if one of them fell into the wrong hands, all future DVDs would not be encrypted with that key. Any DVD players that used this key to decrypt movies would then not be able to play new DVDs. Thus each company that owns a CSS license had a huge incentive not to leak the trade secret CSS method and key.

Can you guess what "DeCSS" does? It Descrambles the Content Scrambling System. Given any CSS encrypted DVD, DeCSS can decrypt it. As you would expect from any personal interaction with Murphy's Law, chaos theory, or computer gurus, any scrambling system is bound to be compromised. MPAA president Jack Valenti himself testified that it was "only a matter of time."

Yet neither the secret method nor the keys were leaked. Instead, some DVD players were reverse engineered. Now reverse engineering hardware players is an extremely difficult task because the method and key is hidden within circuit boards and computer chips at a microscopic level. Yet reverse engineering software is relatively easy because you can find out exactly what software is doing at any given time. Arguably the MPAA should have never allowed software DVD players.

The CSS method and keys were apparently acquired through reverse engineering software DVD players as early as 1997. Yet responsible parties did not publish their findings, worrying that they would cripple the nascent DVD format. Since then, many groups and individuals have claimed knowledge of the trade secret method and keys, but until January, actual source code to descramble CSS was not widely available.

You could easily use this code to pirate DVDs, and so the MPAA wants to eliminate its distribution. Valenti threatens, "If we have to file a thousand lawsuits a day, we'll do it." Hence the suit against Reimerdes, Corley, and Goldstein claiming violation under section 1201(a)(2) of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which "prohibits unauthorized offering of products that circumvent technological measures that effectively control access to copyrighted works." Distributing DeCSS on the Internet is surely an offering of a technological measure to circumvent CSS.

But that's not the whole story.

Valenti makes out Reimerdes, Corley, and Goldstein as criminals who distributed DeCSS to pirate away motion picture revenue. But they actually distributed it so that people could watch rightfully paid-for movies. But why would you need DeCSS to watch your movies; why wouldn't you just use an authorized DVD player?

Well suppose you have a computer with a DVD drive that runs Linux. You also have The Graduate on DVD and you want to watch it on the computer. So you put it in the drive, mentally ready yourself to identify with Dustin Hoffman, but then, lo and behold, you can't play the movie! Why? There are no authorized DVD players for Linux. Why? There were, until recently (April), no CSS licenses offered for Linux.

CSS licenses were only available for Windows and Mac OS. People running other operating systems were just out of luck, among them the 16 million Linux users. Now arguably no licenses were offered since there was no demand for them because Linux users don't pay for software. Yet you can rest assured we wanted to play DVDs on our computers.

As you can imagine, as soon as you could get computer DVD drives, people began writing a DVD player for Linux. Since no authorized player was available, they had to start completely from scratch. And they had millions of dollars in scrambling technology--CSS--stacked against them. But with the help of DeCSS technology, a fully functional Linux DVD player is now available. And it's free!

In this light, DeCSS is not an attempt at piracy but an integral component to a software DVD player desired by millions of people yet not provided for by any CSS license. Of course, descrambling scrambling systems is perfectly legal in the first place. In fact, the intricacies of descrambling CSS have been published in scientific journals. What is being proclaimed illegal here is the distribution of DeCSS as a tool to circumvent copy protection. But what is being distributed is source code, human writing.

Doesn't the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protect human writing? Not necessarily. The courts have not decided whether source code constitutes "speech" under the First Amendment. And this particular code directly violates sections of the Copyright Act.

OK, so how do you win your case? First off, hire lawyers, good ones. The MPAA is backed by the entire motion picture industry, which is court speak for "good lawyers." And if you've learned one thing from watching television all these years, it is that good lawyers are everything.

But that won't cut it. The courts don't seem to be buying the whole First Amendment defense since the source code, although in a sense human writing, can be used to circumvent CSS without ever reading it. So what you need to do is beef up this defense.

Instead of distributing DeCSS source code directly, distribute step-by-step personal instructions of how to compose the necessary source code. That way, there is no question that you are distributing "speech" under the First Amendment. It will be like distributing the anarchist's cookbook back in the good ol' days.

Copyright © 2000 Gabe Weinberg All Rights Reserved

Editor's Note: *spark-online is not legally responsible for any of the information regarding DeCSS technology contained in this article. The information listed is the opinion of the author and the author alone. *spark-online does not condone nor encourage the use of the technology in the manner in which the author describes in this article. *spark-online, its distributors, publishers, owners, employees or contributors waive all claims to liability which may arise from this article.

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