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Tales From Decryption: Hacker Magazine Battles MPAA
By Heather Johnson
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Dean Kathleen Sullivan of Stanford Law School had an unbelievably long day on May 1. The legal representative spent most of the day in the United States Courthouse in New York City to argue on behalf of 2600 Magazine, a quarterly publication devoted to hacking that is currently in the midst of a lawsuit filed by Universal Studios and other members of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).

In addition to their usual editorial and advertising, 2600 Magazine published a link on their web site to a computer program called DeCSS in November 1999 as part of a news story on DVD decryption software. DeCSS decrypts movies on DVDs that have been encrypted by a computer program called CSS. Decryption of DVD movies is necessary in order to make fair use of the movies as well as to play DVD movies on computers running the Linux operating system.

Members of the MPAA, including Universal Studios, filed suit against the magazine in January 2000 seeking an order that the magazine no longer publish the program. The companies object to DeCSS because they claim that it can be used as part of a process to infringe copyrights on DVD movies. In August 2000, the Court prohibited 2600 Magazine from even linking to DeCSS.

On May 1, 2600 Magazine appealed the trial court's ruling. The group referenced the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which attempts to balance a variety of interests in the Internet industry. The appellants "do not dispute that the DeCSS computer code functions as a master key to unlock encrypted DVDs and allow unauthorized persons to copy their content," they said in their brief. "Rather, they assert that the First Amendment provides a safe harbor for those who want to pass that key around, because the DeCSS software itself, in addition to serving as a tool, also conveys protected "expression" to those who know how to read it."

The company also explains that the CSS encryption key was developed based on the fact that traditional tools of copyright enforcement should be supplemented by technological safeguards. However, as this case demonstrates, works of intellectual property that can be encrypted can also be decrypted through the ingenuity of hackers. Technological safeguards alone can never adequately protect creative works against a diffuse global network of Internet-linked individuals who seek to traffic in and profit illegally from the works of others.

According to the 2600 web site, Dean Sullivan compared the banning of the DeCSS code on the 2600 web site to blueprints for building a copying machine. "While some potential exists for infringing uses, there are many legitimate applications for such knowledge," the report says. "In addition, such a ban is overinclusive and does little, if anything, to prevent piracy."

After more discussions, the hearing concluded with arguments from Charles Sims, the attorney representing the MPAA. Sims admitted that there was no documented instance of harm to the industry by the DeCSS program, but felt that it posed an "actual threat of harm" and that the injunction against 2600 was filed in an effort to prevent "a Napsterization of motion pictures."

Both sides have until May 10 to file additional clarifications, with a decision to be announced at a later date.


2600 Magazine -
Universal Studios -

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