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DMCA: NOW A WHOLE LOT WORSE
Posted 31 Oct 2000 00:00:00 UTC

Efforts to prevent the Digital Millenium Copyright Act from getting even worse have apparently fallen on deaf ears. It is now possible to be IMPRISONED simply for WRITING a program like DeCSS.

When the Digital Millenium Copyright Act was enacted, only half of it went into effect. The other half was suspended until the U.S. Copyright office could hold hearings and decide if exemptions should be made in the DMCA. Earlier this year we encouraged readers to submit their comments on the DMCA, and protests were held at Stanford University during hearings. On October 27, the U.S. Copyright office made its findings and the rest of the law went into effect.

They made two exemptions, neither of which were for DVDs or similar media. The first one is geared towards programs like CPHack, which made news earlier this year for decrypting the list of blocked sites in Mattel's CyberPatrol. Mattel had threatened numerous lawsuits under the DMCA because people were spreading the decoding software. Now it looks like they'll have to turn elsewhere to silence people. The second exemption is for circumventing access control measures that are broken, damaged, or obsolete.

So what happened? Did people forget to write in about DVDs? No. Of the 235 comments and 129 reply comments the decision noted that "More comments and testimony were submitted on the subject of motion pictures on digital versatile discs (DVDs) and the technological measures employed on DVDs, primarily Content Scrambling System (CSS), than on any other subject in this rulemaking." The decision goes on to outline arguments for an exemption - the Copyright Office has a "significant concern" that DVDs have merged copy control and access control into one system, extending the protections that the congress only intended to give copy protection systems into a system that limits playback as well. But despite what it referred to as "bootstrapping" by the motion picture industry, it ruled that this wasn't enough to grant an exemption, and we're beginning to think that nothing would have been.

What's most disappointing is unlike Judge Kaplan in the DeCSS case, these people seem to actually get the picture. Yet they still dismissed the public outcry, not because it lacked merit, but because they simply gave the industry more weight. Basically, their logic for accepting each counterargument came down to whether or not coverage by the DMCA encouraged the film industry to release DVDs. If region coding helps them sell more movies, then who cares about consumers? We should be so lucky to be allowed the privilege of viewing movies at all - go buy a second DVD player with a different region code, says the Copyright Office. Can't make a non-infringing copy of a DVD? Rent a VHS copy. What about all the extras on DVDs that aren't included on the VHS tapes? Well, if it weren't for DVDs the motion picture industry wouldn't have given us those extras in the first place, so you're not entitled to exercise your First Amendment fair use rights with them. But what about people who run Linux? Simple: Don't. Good to know they value our interests. Even more alarming is the circular logic used to skirt the issue of reverse engineering. The U.S. Copyright Office cites Judge Kaplan's ruling on reverse engineering in the DeCSS case. Meanwhile Judge Kaplan's decision presumed that all of the DMCA was already in effect without additional exemptions.

Of course, it's all of little surprise when one considers that this law was custom made for the entertainment industry, and DVDs in particular. Indeed, even the Copyright Office was not unaware of this fact and used it as further justification for ignoring the interests of users.

Under the law, civil statutory damages for gaining access to a piece of copyrighted material secured by computer code range from $200 to $2,500. Criminal penalties includes fines of as much as $1 million or 10 years in jail for repeat offenses. And the real beauty of it is that you can incur these penalties simply by playing with technology that you already own. Figuring out how to skip commercials on a DVD is now officially a crime.


DVD related excerpts from the decision [HTML]

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