Court eyes DVD-copying software ban

Judge 'substantially persuaded' by recent cases

SAN FRANCISCO — Sony Corp. and other U.S. movie studio owners may succeed in forcing DVD-copying products off the market after a federal judge indicated she may decide the products violate federal copyright law.

U.S. District Court Judge Susan Illston said she was “substantially persuaded” by recent cases in which courts have banned computer technologies that could be used to illegally copy movies. The studios asked Illston to find that DVD-duplicating products made by 321 Studios are barred by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

The 321 products allow consumers to get around encryption codes that prevent copying. To prove 321 violates the law, “Isn’t that all they have to show?” Illston asked.

U.S. film studios lose an estimated $3 billion in potential worldwide sales each year due to piracy, according to the Motion Picture Assn. of America. The studios want to stop programs such as 321’s DVD Copy Plus, which sells for as little as $50, before DVD piracy becomes as prevalent as song-swapping sites on the Internet.

Daralyn Durie, an attorney for closely held 321, said there are legitimate reasons for making copies of DVDs, including making duplicates of some material and for teaching purposes.

There is no evidence that Chesterfield, Mo.-based 321’s products are being purchased to support piracy, Durie said.

The legal skirmish was initiated by 321 when it sued the movie studios in April 2002 to get a court order stating that its products don’t violate the DMCA, which makes it a crime to circumvent technologies meant to protect copyrighted work.

Sony, MGM, Time Warner Entertainment, Disney Enterprises, Universal Studios and the Saul Zaentz Co. responded with a request to get 321’s DVD Copy Plus and DVD X Copy off the market. The Justice Dept. filed court papers in support of the studios, which are also seeking 321’s profit and inventory of products.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that the conduct going on here” violates the law, Russell Frackman, attorney for the studios, told Illston, who is expected to rule on the case in the coming weeks.

About 500,000 copies of the two products have been sold, 321 said.

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