DVD Software Causes Controversy

Laine Towey, Assistant News Editor
The Tartan

February 14, 2000.

DVD Content Scrambling System (DeCSS) software, which lets users circumvent the Content Scrambling System used to encrypt DVDs, has recently come under fire at Carnegie Mellon University. Two web pages have been the target of either campaigns or requests to take the information off of the Internet.

On February 4, Computing Services received a cease-and-desist email concerning the DeCSS software that Dr. David Touretzky, a senior research scientist in the Computer Science department, was distributing on his web page. The email was from the Motion Picture Association. of America (MPAA), and maintained that DeCSS is "an unlawful circumvention device." The email also demanded that Touretzky remove the software from the web site.

A CMU student was also found to be distributing DeCSS software on his own website, and Student Affairs has asked him to remove it. "Rather than fight the potential lawsuit, we will simply ask the that student no longer distribute this software. It's the opinion of our attorney that this software has no legitimate value except to copy copyrighted material," said Paul Fowler, the Associate Dean of Student Affairs.

Touretzky said that he doesn't yet know what he is going to do about the material on his web site. However, he says that the case "is about the first Amendment ... My position is that my web page is entirely legal ... legally, I can keep it up."

The legal issues of the DeCSS software are quite complex. By decrypting DVDs, proponents of the software claim that it makes it possible to view movies on computers with Linux systems. There have been various legal rulings, however, that have stated that DeCSS is a prohibited circumvention device, and thus, according to the MPAA, providing or offering DeCSS to the public on [a] system or network violates [a law] which prohibits the manufacturing or offering to the public, providing, or otherwise trafficking in an unlawful circumvention device.

A New York judge ruled on February 3 in favor of movie studios who want DeCSS off of the internet, stating that the claims of DeCSS proponents are "frivolous."

Supporters of DeCSS are currently doing all that they can to distribute the software, and are even printing DeCSS on a T-Shirt.

An Internet FAQ for DVD mentions that the specific DeCSS.exe file that is being posted online is "clearly intended for copying movies." However, it also says that "It's certainly true that DVD piracy is a problem, but DeCSS has little to do with it."

"What I believe," says Touretzky, "is that code is speech, and you cannot suppress code for the same reason that you cannot suppress speech that you don't like."

Copyright 2000