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Supremes stay DVD copy decision

Court ruling concerns software-cracking Net users

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court has inserted itself temporarily into a DVD copying case that also holds significant implications for the jurisdiction of U.S. courts over certain Internet activities.

On Dec. 24, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor temporarily stayed last month’s decision by the California Supreme Court that out-of-state Internet users who post DVD cracking software on the Web cannot be sued in California courts unless they can be shown to have some significant business interest in that state.

That decision was considered a blow to studio efforts to police copyright infringement on the Internet, because it would have forced them to sue individual infringers separately in their own jurisdictions, rather than all at once in California.

The ruling came in the case of Matthew Pavlovich against the DVD Copy Control Association, the licensing agency for CSS, the encryption system used by the studios to protect DVDs against unauthorized copying.

Pavlovich, a resident of Texas, was one of hundreds of defendants sued by DVD-CCA in 1999 for allegedly violating California’s trade secret laws by posting the DVD cracking program DeCSS on various web sites.

Pavlovich challenged the suit on grounds that he was not subject to the jurisdiction of California courts. In November, the California Supreme Court agreed and threw out the charges against him.

In applying to the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay of that order, DVD-CCA said it was necessary to prevent Pavlovich from reposting DeCSS on the Internet.

Sole Justice

The application was submitted only to Justice O’Connor, who issued the temporary stay the same day, pending response from Pavlovich. The deadline for responding is Jan. 2.

Outside legal experts said Tuesday that the application for a stay was likely a prelude to petitioning the full court to hear an appeal of California Supreme Court’s ruling.

Attorneys for DVD-CCA could not be reached on Tuesday.

Jurisdiction over the Internet has become a thorny legal tangle, making the Pavlovich case ripe for consideration by the U.S. Supremes.

Recently, the Australian High Court ruled that Dow Jones Co., publisher of The Wall Street Journal and Barron’s, could be sued for defamation in Australia, where laws protecting the press are more lax than in the U.S.

(Paul Sweeting is a reporter for Daily Variety sister publication Video Business.)

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