321 Studios updates controversial DVD copy software

321 Studios LLC has released an upgrade to its DVD copying software despite still being embroiled in a court case over the software's legality.

The company announced last Friday that DVD X Copy Gold, an improved version of the software that includes all of the features of two previous products, DVD X Copy and DVD X Copy XPRESS, is now available. New features in DVD X Copy Gold let users copy most DVDs within an hour, and can record all features of an original CD or compress a DVD-9 to a DVD-5, fitting each backup copy onto a single DVD disk, 321 Studios said in a statement.

321 Studio's software uses a decryption technology called DeCSS to let users copy DVD movies onto recordable DVDs and CD-R discs, despite the CSS (Contents Scrambling System) encryption placed on the movies to prevent this sort of copying.

321 Studios is currently involved in a court case with MGM Studios Inc., Tristar Pictures Inc., Columbia Pictures Industries Inc., Time Warner Entertainment Co. LP, Disney Enterprises Inc., Universal City Studios LLLP and The Saul Zaentz Co. over the sale and use of its software.

U.S. District Court Judge Susan Illston, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, began the case by saying that she was "substantially persuaded" by the opinions of other judges in earlier cases involving the DMCA, who had ruled it illegal to distribute tools to work around copy protection technology. The new software seems unlikely to help 321 Studios case.

Terry Rose, managing director of 321 Studios in the U.K. said Friday that the company has made several changes to the software but that these are not aimed at lessening the charges against it. He was unable to comment on the court case, other than to confirm it was still ongoing, he said.

Mark Fisher, a new-media attorney with Fish and Richardson PC in Boston, said Friday that 321 Studio's announcement shows they believe in their case that their product is not illegal.

"It's not a quantum leap in features, just an improvement to the compression, so I don't think it will change the court case. (321's) position is that they have every right to do what they're doing, so there's no reason not to bring out new products," Fisher said.

According to a timeline on its own Web site, 321 Studios began a suit against the companies in April 2002, asking the judge to declare that its product, DVD Copy Plus, did not violate the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The companies responded with their own suit in June 2002, asking that the original case be dismissed on the grounds that there was no case or controversy.

Claim and counterclaim have continued since then, and the current case, a motion for partial summary judgement ruling that 321 Studio's products are illegal, was begun by the movie studios in January of this year, 321 Studios' site said. Judgment is expected to take 30 to 60 days from the mid-May court date in front of District Court Judge Illston, the site said.

DVD X Copy Gold is on sale for US$119, the company said.

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Gillian Law

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