DVD copying up against the law

US-based software manufacturer 321 Studios LLC is set to release a product that it says will allow consumers to create perfect copies of their DVDs. But before the product hits the shelves, the company must first weather a legal storm.

The software maker plans to release DVD X copy in the US at the end of the month. The program allows users to create 'bit-for-bit' copies of their DVDs using a standard recordable DVD drive.

But the software seems to be in clear breach of the DCMA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act). This US legislation deems it illegal to distribute tools that circumvent copy prevention technologies used to protect DVD content, and this is exactly what the software does.

Although 321 Studios has no immediate plans to release the software in the UK, a victory in the US courts against the restrictive DCMA could set a strong precedent if it were to come up against legal action in Europe.

Under the EU Copyright Directive, which is due to come into force in the UK by Christmas, all circumvention devices, including DeCss software like this, which allows you to break the content scrambling system encryption used on DVD discs, are illegal. Any person found even advertising such programs on a website is liable to civil action from the authorities and up to three months in prison.

But pressure group CD-R (Campaign for Digital Rights) believes the UK's take on the directive is too limited. Article 6 forbids users to access protected digital works, such as DVDs, through any software or hardware other than that approved by the creator of the digital format.

"This is in essence removing the balance between the society and the author codified in the copyright legislation and replacing it with arbitrary rules governed by the software or hardware you use to access a copyrighted work," said Julian Midgley, spokesman at CD-R.

"By adding an impenetrable layer of law protection on top of 'protection measures' the large publishers have been given carte blanche to write their own laws," he added.

Although 321 Studios has not been asked to stop distributing an existing version of its software in the US, the company has taken a pre-emptive strike against its movie industry foes by filing a lawsuit aimed at protecting its software from being quashed by litigation.

Company president Robert Moore is arguing that people should be able to create backup copies of their DVD movies, just as they can copy VHS or CD.

Michael Page, the company's attorney, agrees: "We believe those provisions in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act are unconstitutional because they basically trump the fair use rights. If you make it illegal to make a backup copy of work you lawfully own, you have overstepped the legitimate bounds of the Copyright Act".

Under the terms of the DMCA even making a personal copy of a DVD could be deemed illegal, a stance the UK seems to be following.

A hearing is set to take place in the US on 15 October.

DVD X copy is designed to make exact replicas of a DVD movie in about an hour, and can also be used to restore scratched or damaged DVDs.

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