Making Copies

The menace threatening the global entertainment industry? Linux users!?

The EFF counters that by going after the people who posted the program rather than the people who created it, the DVDCCA is attempting to stifle free discussion about the issue. (Computer source code has been ruled protected speech under the First Amendment.)

Representatives for the DVDCCA failed to respond to the Weekly's attempts to contact them.

In contrast, the lawsuits filed in New York and Connecticut on Jan. 14 by the Motion Picture Association of America accuse the defendants of violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which was passed by Congress in 1998 and outlaws using technological means to circumvent copy protection on copyrighted works.

But the battle playing itself out on both sides of the country is about more than whether a few guys in Norway can play movies on their computers. Fundamentally, it's about the flow of information: who owns it, who controls it, and who can talk about it. By attempting to prohibit even linking to a site containing the DeCSS program, the DVDCCA is in essence trying to prevent people from talking about something they'd rather the world didn't know about. Ultimately, given the nature of the Internet and the stubbornness of Linux users, they won't be able to squelch discussion. (One enterprising company has begun selling T-shirts with the DeCSS source code printed on them; if the DVDCCA wins, wearing them would be against the law.)

Eben Moglen, a Columbia University law professor and member of the EFF defense team, said, "If you think about it, copyright and patent law turns ideas into things that people can own and exclude other people from. The inherent tension between this idea and the idea of the free exchange of information is at the heart of the First Amendment. What we're seeing now is two different movements: one toward more rights for owners, as in the DMCA, and one toward decreasing ownership—that's what the open source movement does. They're diametrically opposed. In the United States, it becomes a constitutional issue. But because of the U.S.'s role in leading the technological revolution, what happens here on constitutional grounds becomes the way global society deals with it."

It's too early to tell which way the Information Age is going to go—toward the free exchange of information or toward an increasingly insular and insulated environment where people curl protectively around their ideas, refusing to share. But it sure must have been a shock for the entertainment industry when it set out to squash a few annoying bugs and it turned out the bugs could bite back.

Share information freely with Wyn at machineage@mediaone.net. And if you'd like to order a stylin' DeCSS T-shirt (and contribute to the EFF's defense fund), check out copyleft.net.
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