Monday, August 25, 2003

Still missing the point

The California Supreme Court, along with nearly everyone else, is still missing the point.

The Court has overturned an earllier Appeals Court ruling that publication of the DeCSS algorithm used to encrypt DVD's is protected by the First Amendment. The argument for restricting the distribution of DeCSS is to prevent the illegal copying of DVDs.

The point that everyone is missing is that it is not necessary to decrypt a DVD in order to make an illegal copy. The software to decrypt DVDs is built in to every DVD player. A decrypted copy of a DVD would not work in a standard DVD player. To make an illegal copy of a DVD all you have to do is make a raw copy of the bits on the DVD, encryption and all.

What the fuss is really all about is not restricting the copying of DVDs but restricting the viewing of DVDs. Not all DVDs are created equal. They are encrypted differently depending on where the DVD is intended to be sold. One kind of encryption is used in the U.S. A different kind of encryption is used in Europe. A third kind is used in Asia, and so on. A DVD encrpyted with one of these so-called "region codes" will not work with a DVD player from a different region. This is used by the movie undustry to control the timing of movie releases.

It has also been used by the undustry to suppress the development of DVD-viewing software for the Linux operating system.

If this ruling is allowed to stand it could have very serious consequences. For example, many jurisdictions, particularly in the United States, are seriously considering moving to the use of electronic voting machines based on secret proprietary software. This ruling by the California Supreme Court could be used by the manufacturers of such machines to suppress the dissemination of information about potential weakness in the security of these machines (and all indications are that current incarnations of these machines are very easily compromised).

This ruling is just one in a long string of setbacks for individual free-speech rights in favor of commercial interests. The First Amendment is being dismantled to line the pockets of corporations.

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