In Defense of
Free Speech on the Internet
Date: Fri, 14 Jan 2000 01:46:10 +0100 (MET)
Deutsche Version | Spanish Version | Japanese Version
We, the undersigned members of the Global Internet Liberty Campaign - a coalition of more than 50 civil liberty groups worldwide - believe that the lawsuit of the Digital Versatile Disc Copy Control Association [DVD-CCA] against dozens of people worldwide may have a severe and harmful impact on free expression.
We believe that intellectual property owners should not be allowed to expand their property rights at the expense of free speech, legal reverse-engineering of software programs for interoperability reasons and discussions of technical and scientific issues on the internet.
DVD-CCA's lawsuit is in direct conflict with United Nations human rights accords and the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
Just after Christmas the Digital Versatile Disc Copy Control Association (DVD-CCA) filed a case in California against people around the world who published information about the DVD Content Scrambling System (CSS), or links to such information, on the internet.
The root of the case is the allegation that the reverse-engineering of the DVD CSS system was "improper" (paragraph 18), "unauthorized" (para. 20), "wrongfully appropriating proprietary trade secrets" (para. 21), "unauthorized use of proprietary CSS information, which was illegally "hacked" (para. 22). The DVD-CCA have yet to provide substantial proof of these allegations, and they are unlikely to be proven true in a court of law.
In their lawsuit, they claim that the defendants are violating the association's trade secrets and other intellectual property rights by publishing and discussing the source code of (or simply linking to other sites that publish or discuss) a legally reverse-engineered means of decoding DVD discs.
On the contrary, the individuals targeted by the DVD-CCA have engaged in legitimate, protected speech, which includes software, textual descriptions, and discussions of DVD CSS. This speech is in no way copied or acquired from the DVD-CCA's trade-secret documents.
Copyrights do not give anyone any rights in "ideas", but only protect the exact form in which they are expressed. Similarly, trade-secret law only controls people who agreed to keep it secret and have been told the secret; other people remain free to independently discover the secret.
The ideas being discussed and implemented were apparently extracted by having an engineer study a DVD product ("reverse engineering"), which is legal in most countries. Indeed, the 1998 United States Digital Millennium Copyright Act provides specifically in section 1201(f) that reverse engineering of a copy-protection encryption system is legal for reasons of "interoperability" between computer systems.
The decoder source code at the center of the case, called "DeCSS", was created (by third parties, not the defendants) to enable Linux computers to utilize DVD drives and content, since the industry itself failed to produce the necessary drivers for this operating system.
In the DVD CCA's claim, the DVD-CCA have made the highly questionable suggestion that the source code's real purpose is to enable illegal duplication of DVD discs.
Experts such as Eric s. Raymond have concluded that CSS does nothing to prevent piracy. In fact DVDs can be copied already by using other means, so nobody needs DeCSS to duplicate DVDs and DVD-CCA knows this very well. The notion that DeCSS could play a role in the distribution of pirated movies via the internet is absurd. At the speed most users currently use, a movie would take over a week to download.
THE REAL BACKGROUND
The real objective behind CSS technology and this law suit is to prevent movies sold in one zone of the world from being played on DVD players in another zone. The movie industry simply fears to lose revenue, if a film released in the US can be viewed on DVD players in Europe, Asia, or South America, before it is shown in theaters there. (The motion picture industry have recently demanded that manufacturers stop producing and selling "world" zone players able to play movies sold in any zone.)
DVD-CCA also licences player manufacturers and software vendors who have produced DVD player software for use on Mac and Windows systems. DeCSS and related work enable the creation of new "rogue" DVD players in the freeware realm, that compete with controlled commercial products. This, DVD-CCA fear, would cut into manufacturing and licensing profits.
We, the undersigned members of the Global Internet Liberty Campaign believe that this lawsuit may have a harmful impact on free expression. In our opinion, the DVD CCA's actions are in direct conflict with United Nations human rights accords and the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, because the information that the programmers posted is legal.
We also object to the DVD-CCA's attempt to blur the distinction between posting material on one's own web site and merely linking to it. If the original reverse-engineering was legal, as we believe, then the subsequent re-publication of the information is legal as well.
DVD-CCA's tactics have created the perception that the DVD-CCA believes in swift oppression, using large bankrolls to send lawyers against little people.
We believe that intellectual property owners should not be allowed to expand their property rights at the expense of free speech - particularly when the speech in question explains how companies have prevented the dissemination of new scientific ideas.
We believe the DVD CCA is using intellectual property laws to subvert free speech in cyberspace.
American Civil Liberties
for Free Expression
for Social Responsibility
Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties
Derechos Human Rights
Index on Censorship
IRIS (Imaginons un
reseau Internet solidaire, France)
against Surveillance Taskforce, JAPAN)
The Global Internet
Factsheet from Opendvd.org
Fascmile of the complaint
for injunctive relief for misappropration of trade secrets by DVD-CCA
San Jose Mercury
Eric S. Raymond
on the Case
German language analysis
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