DVD-piracy paranoia proves counterproductive

Tuesday, 24 June 2003, 4:44 PM EST

A little program called DeCSS caused a lot of commotion when it surfaced on the Internet four years ago. DeCSS does only one task: Remove the encryption on a DVD movie, allowing the video files on the disc to be used at will -- played back off the disc, copied to the computer's hard drive or burned to a second DVD.

Its author, a Norwegian teenager named Jon Lech Johansen, said he wrote DeCSS because he wanted to be able to watch DVDs on his Linux computer and no authorized playback software was available.

The movie industry preferred to describe DeCSS as a lock-picking tool, useful only for piracy. It successfully filed suit to prevent the posting of DeCSS to Web sites from the United States.

The entertainment industry's legal campaign against the DeCSS code (its name refers to the Content Scramble System used to regulate playback) has continued ever since. At the end of May, for example, the California Supreme Court opened hearings on a suit by the DVD Copy Control Association, the licensing body behind CSS, that argues posting DeCSS online violates the state's trade-secret laws.

Programmers continued to rework DVD-unlocking software, eventually writing new, more effective code. That, in turn, has given birth to a surprising variety of applications.

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