321 Studios heads to court over DVD copying rights

321 Studios LLC, a provider of DVD copying technologies, is counting down to a court date in San Francisco Friday when a judge is set to consider whether the company is on solid constitutional ground to sue nine major motion picture companies to prevent them from blocking the distribution of its software.

The hearing, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, comes one year after 321 Studios filed the suit as a preventative measure, believing that the movie studios would sue it to stop distribution of its DVD Copy Plus software, which allows consumers to make personal backup copies of their DVDs.

The suit names MGM Studios Inc., Tristar Pictures Inc., Columbia Pictures Industries Inc., Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc., Time Warner Entertainment Co. LP, Disney Enterprises Inc., Universal City Studios LLLP, The Saul Zaentz Co. and Pixar Corp. as defendants.

The case tests the ramifications of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which prohibits the distribution of tools that circumvent copyright protection technologies. 321 Studios is arguing that its software is protected under fair use and free speech rights and is asking for a declaratory judgment stating that its DVD copying software is legal.

The defendants are asking for the case to be thrown out.

"We think the facts in this case are very cut and dry and a trial is not necessary," said Marta Grutka, a spokeswoman for the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), which is representing the defendants.

Both sides are closely watching the suit, which could potentially test the limits of the DMCA. The Act was written with the aim of protecting intellectual property rights in the digital realm but some civil liberty advocates claim that it curtails citizens fair use and free speech rights.

The MPAA believes that 321 Studios' is in clear violation of the DMCA with the distribution of its software, Grutka said, adding that the lawsuit is an attempt to retry already tested provisions of the law.

321 Studios' DVD Copy Plus software allows users to back up DVD movies on standard CD-R disks and the company's DVD X Copy software allows users to backup DVD movies on recordable DVDs. On the company's Web site, 321 states that DVD X Copy will "copy almost any DVD -- including copy-protected DVDs!"

It will be up to the judge to decide if 321 Studios' constitutional claim is enough to warrant a trial in the case. The hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. PT, a 321 Studio representative said.

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