MPAA violating rights?


Laine Towey's article [ ] on the DVD software controversy indicated the complexity of the issues involved, but I'm afraid some of the comments attributed to Associate Dean Paul Fowler may create a false impression among your readers. I hope you will allow me to give a clearer picture of the situation.

Currently available software DVD players don't run under Linux, and won't play disks purchased in Europe or Asia. This restriction, known as "region codes", allows the MPAA to sell the same content for less overseas, and to restrict access to content to specific geographic regions. Some countries refuse to require DVD players to support region codes because they recognize this scheme as contrary to consumer interests. The US is not yet so enlightened. To remedy these problems, Linux enthusiasts are constructing their own DVD players which are open source and freely available to all. A necessary component of such players is a module to read encrypted DVDs. The source code for this module, called css-auth, is currently available on my web site [ ].

This has nothing to do with copying DVDs. For technical reasons, consumer copying of DVDs is presently uneconomical. And large-scale commercial copying of DVDs by pirates in Asia is done with entirely different technologies that do not rely on decryption. Hence, the only practical use for the css-auth software is to play DVDs that have been legally purchased.

The Motion Picture Association of America alleges that css-auth is a "circumvention device" whose distribution is prohibited under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. The DMCA is a poorly constructed law written by the industry itself, and has not yet been tested in the courts. It curtails some well-established rights of American citizens in order to advance the economic interests of a private cartel. But the DMCA cannot be used to suppress source code without doing violence to the First Amendment. Although the matter has not yet been reviewed by the Supreme Court, several lower courts have found that source code can indeed enjoy the same First Amendment protections as other forms of speech. The MPAA's attempt to interfere with speech it doesn't like should be rejected and roundly condemned.

David S. Touretzky
Senior Research Scientist
Computer Science

Copyright 2000