Over the past week the Motion Picture Association of America has intensified its efforts to bully and harass individual Internet users by sending out a new series of email threats. Using little more than bluff and bluster they've also managed in recent weeks to shut down countless websites, convince employers to fire employees, and get schools to take disciplinary actions against students for doing little more than taking part in an act of solidarity on their private homepages.
John Young, who maintains the Cryptome, is one of the hundreds of John Doe defendants in the California DVD case. In addition to a copy of DeCSS, Young published a copy of the now-infamous Hoy Declaration*, in which the DVD Copy Control Association inadvertently included a copy of the very information they were trying to suppress in public court filings. He was among the first to bear the brunt of a wave of cease and desist letters for posting the source code to DeCSS. The letter reads in part:
The Superior Court of Santa Clara County, California also recently granted a preliminary Injunction against the Internet posting of DeCSS.
Never mind the fact that the MPAA knows full well that Young, located in New York, is outside the jurisdiction of the California court, nor is he covered by the Southern District of New York's injunction. They neglect to quote the portion of the injunction that specifies just who is covered and who isn't.
If you are bound by an injunction, maintaining the DeCSS utility on your system or network violates the above injunction[s] and risks court sanctions for contempt.
Over the past week, we have received numerous reports of this threatening letter being sent to web site owners worldwide. It appears the MPAA is simply going down the list of mirrored sites and sending a letter to everybody.
Geography and national sovereignty are clearly foreign concepts to this multinational corporation. The effects of globalization seem to have impaired their faculties more than previously thought. They proceeded to send similar letters to people all over the world. Tom Vogt, also named as a defendant in the California case, resides in Germany. The letter the MPAA sent him insisting that he comply with the California injunction, refers to the preliminary draft of an unratified convention. That's right, the best they could do was threaten him with an unsigned treaty.
Earlier this month Grant Bayley received a cease and desist letter for hosting DeCSS on his webpage for the Australian 2600 meeting. Both Bayley and the server are located in Australia. As expressed in the meeting guidelines, 2600 meetings are organized on their own, anyone can start one, and they are pretty much autonomous. According to an Australian journalist who spoke with the chief counsel for the MPAA, 2600 Australia is being singled out simply because of its name. Presumably this is also why they chose to go after A.Sleep, operator of the Connecticut 2600 meeting's webpage in his very own federal lawsuit. One can only imagine what the MPAA must be thinking.
In an age where anyone is capable of exercising free speech to mass audiences via the Internet, there is a disturbing trend that this freedom is limited not by the strength of one's convictions nor one's access to technology. Rather it is dependant on the will and resources of one's Internet Service Provider. It is common for ISPs to cancel accounts or remove content at the first hints of any controversy. It didn't take long for big business to figure this out and they've been exploiting lawsuit-fearing ISPs ever since. One can hardly blame the average ISP for bowing to such impressive cease and desist letters. Often they're barely breaking even as it is, and nuking one $10 a month webpage is a simple business decision when being threatened with a million dollar lawsuit.
What's far more troubling is the ease in which traditional safe havens for free expression, like universities and other academic institutions, are willing to sell out their students. Zach Karpinski stands out as one such victim. A student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Zach was summarily fired from his job of two and a half years at Student Technology Services, an organization he helped build. The letters he and his school received accusing him of using school servers for illegal activities were enough to trample this student's rights and reputation in favor of some perverse idea of political "damage control." They should be more concerned with controlling the damage done to their student's academic freedom and civil liberties than satisfying the whims of Jack Valenti and the MPAA. Sadly, Zach is not alone. A student from California State University at Fresno wrote in to report that he had to take down his school-hosted DeCSS mirror and that the MPAA requested that he be fired from his school employment. (Fortunately, he wasn't fired).
We first took a stand in the DVD battle back in November, when the first cease and desist letters were being sent out. We joined in the mirroring campaign to lend our support to those who had been subjected to hollow threats and harassment from the DVD industry, but were forced into compliance due to circumstances beyond their control. They knew they were right, they knew they could win, but they lacked the resources to stand up for their convictions. As evidenced above, that fight is ongoing. Our modest mirror list has grown substantially and continues to grow, despite mirrors being removed from time to time. The success of the DeCSS mirroring campaign demonstrates the futility of attempts to suppress free speech on the Internet. It is distributed hosting at its most basic and a proven defense from censorship. Make no mistake, DeCSS is out there, it can never be eradicated. Not only will DeCSS be preserved regardless of whether there are any mirrors, the tyrannical actions of the MPAA have ensured that it will live on forever in history, law books, and all the communities it has effected.
[Local copy of letter sent by the MPAA]