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
disregard all threatening letters from the MPAA, except your court
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).
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."
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.
not the whole story.
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?
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
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.
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.
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.
© 2000 Gabe
Weinberg All Rights Reserved
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,
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