Sunday, November 17, 2002

Hollywood can't scare DVD-copier company



By Jim Suhr
The Associated Press

ST. LOUIS - After two decades in computer consulting, Robert Moore pulled out his laptop and pulled his son aside, hoping to teach the young man a thing or two about dad's work.

What came of their brainstorming last year ultimately blossomed into 321 Studios, a developer and seller of DVD-copying software.

That put Mr. Moore - an ex-Marine and college dropout - on the front lines of one of the digital age's most volatile legal battles: the dispute between consumer rights and copyright protection.

Mr. Moore's adversary: Hollywood, which apparently believes products such as 321's flout a 1998 federal law that the movie industry contends bars the picking of electronic locks on copyright works.

"We're nothing compared to these guys; we realize that. We're a very, very tiny fish in a very large ocean," Mr. Moore, 42, said from his business in the St. Louis suburb of Chesterfield, dismissing the David vs. Goliath analogy: "We're not even David's big toe."

Since mid-2001, the company has sold more than 100,000 copies of DVD Copy Plus, which allows people to copy DVD movies onto CDs. It includes code that cracks the copy-protection scheme used for most commercial DVD movies.

New software from 321 Studios, which Mr. Moore said was being released over the weekend, is called DVD X Copy and also unlocks the so-called Content Scramble System.

The company says the $100 product, which requires a DVD burner, will make perfect DVD copies in 60 to 90 minutes - a far cry from the hours required by DVD Copy Plus, which burns movies onto CDs.

"People already are making DVD copies; we're just making it simpler with a couple of clicks of a button," said Rob Semaan, 321's chief executive. "It's not so earth-shattering from the technology environment because that stuff already exists. What we're doing is bringing it to the mass market."

Hollywood sees things differently.

Last year, in a case brought by the movie industry, a New York federal appeals court ruled that the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act bars the dissemination of computer code that circumvents the Content Scramble System - or any other mechanism designed to prevent digital duplication of copyright material.

Mr. Moore said he had never heard of the law until a March newspaper story implied that products such as DVD Copy Plus might violate it.

He had considered making backup copies of DVDs as harmless as duplicating VHS tapes. But after reading the article, he said, "we all kind of freaked out."

Mr. Moore, a pastor's son, said he considered shuttering 321, fearing he might go to prison. He worried he might lose his dream house he helped build on a woody, four-acre spread by a lake - the same place he and son Brian, 22, joined forces and minds at a kitchen table to create a company.

So in April, 321 Studios pre-emptively sued nine major movie studios in San Francisco federal court, seeking the right to sell its software.

Mr. Moore wants a judge to rule that 321's products are legal and do not violate the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. He considers court interpretations of the law to date overly broad, and believes its anti-circumvention provision is unconstitutional - a claim that federal courts have rejected in other cases.

"Whether we knew or didn't know we were breaking the law was irrelevant," Mr. Moore said, adding that consumers should have every right to make backup DVDs to protect their investments in the plastic.

"We're not thumbing our nose at copyright; we're standing up for the rights of consumers."

The lawsuit is scheduled for another court appearance this month.

Motion Picture Association of America spokeswoman Marta Grutka declined to discuss 321, citing the litigation. But she said people behind products that circumvent a DVD's scrambling technology "are exposing themselves to criminal prosecution" under the DMCA.

Mr. Moore said he was hoping to reach common ground with Hollywood, "but we can't get anybody there to talk to us."

So 321 has moved to allay some of industry's concerns. DVD X Copy injects electronic barriers into the copies it makes to keep them from being duplicated further.

Executives at 321 say Hollywood, thirsting for all-or-nothing control, has wrongly lumped their 28-employee business in with the Napsters of the world.

Fred von Lohmann, an attorney for the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation, an online-based civil liberties group, agrees.

"There's no reason why regular folks should be unable to make copies of their own property," he said, arguing that Hollywood's broad interpretation of the DMCA is not what Congress intended.



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