DVD Decoding: Trade Secret No More

A consortium of entertainment and technology companies is seeking dismissal of a long-standing DVD descrambling lawsuit.

In a move that has big implications for both the distribution and sharing of entertainment content and freedom of speech online, a group of entertainment and technology companies called DVD CCA (http://www.dvdcca.org/) filed on Thursday for dismissal of a key lawsuit pertaining to descrambling movie content on DVDs. The lawsuit had been brought in 1999 against Andrew Bunner, who obtained the code for a DVD decryption program called DeCSS and published it online, plus 21 other named defendants, and 500 other unnamed defendants.

The legal proceedings have been going on in the California court system, and the motion for dismissal filed on Thursday points toward the probability of a dismissal. Previously, because some of the defendants in the case were not based in California, the California Supreme Court issued a ruling restricting the legal pursuit of DeCSS republishers outside of California. At least one person being pursued legally was in England.

All of the defendants in the case allegedly misappropriated trade secrets by either publishing the code for DeCSS online or linking to it. Understanding the issues well involves digesting a little bit of alphabet soup. The CSS in DeCSS stands for Content Scrambling System, which has been the technology used to keep people from copying and sharing DVD content such as movies. DeCSS is a program that decrypts such content and allows the sharing of it, which many entertainment companies oppose. DVD CCA is the licensing body that represents the licensing of CSS code. A number of the companies in that licensing body are members of the MPAA, or Motion Picture Association of America.

"DVD CCA had been casting a very wide net," says Gwen Hinze, staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which had been involved in defending Mr. Bunner. Indeed, the importance of the issues pertaining to movie distribution and DVD technology in the case was matched by the significance of free speech issues online related to the case.


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