2000-08-22 01:00:00 UTC
Last night I took the time to read Judge Kaplan's ruling in the DeCSS case. Horrifying, partly because of the DMCA laws that the case revolved around, but also because of the judge's obvious bias against 2600. (As far as I could tell there was no jury in this case. Is that usual for this sort of thing?)
The DMCA, while it tips the balance in copyright disputes very firmly in favour of the copyright holder, has a provision which allows circumvention of access control measures in order to achieve interoperability with another computer program. This would (possibly) allow people to crack the CSS encryption for the purposes of making a Linux DVD player. What's amazing, though, is how utterly worthless this provision is in practice.
It's useless for two reasons. Firstly because the information about how the measures were circumvented can only be given to others for the sole purpose of achieving interoperability. Given what is said on pages 18 and 19 of the ruling, it appears that, because it has the potential to be used in other ways, DeCSS cannot be distributed. (If you know the first thing about encryption you will realise that this will apply to 99.9% of attempts to circumvent an access control mechanism.) Secondly because the information can only be provided to others by the person who first discovered it. No one is allowed to redistribute the information.
This provision was obviously only put into the DMCA to look good, and was deliberately crippled to prevent anyone from actually benefitting from it.
Judge Kaplan's bias is also quite terrifying. Near the beginning of the ruling he describes the two parties involved in the dispute. He takes time to slander Emmanuel Goldstein and 2600, and does so repeatedly throughout the ruling. About the MPAA's attempts to erode fair use rights and to extend copyright far beyond its original intent he remains silent.
It is also worth noting the extent to which Kaplan tolerates, even promotes, flawed logic. Speaking about the DMCA he writes:
'... Section 1202(a)(1) governs "[t]he act of circumventing a technological protection measure put in place by a copyright owner to control access to a copyrighted work," an act described by Congress as "the electronic equivalent of breaking into a locked room in order to obtain a copy of a book."'
He provides no comment on this, presumably indicating that he shares this this view. He does not mention the fact that in the DeCSS case it is more akin to breaking into a locked room in order to obtain the very same copy of the book which you paid for.