August 22, 2003 5:28 PM PDT

New DVD-copying tools to hit shelves

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Despite staunch legal opposition from Hollywood, a new package of DVD-copying software is headed for online and offline retail shelves.

DVD drive company Tritton Technologies on Friday said it agreed to distribute software called DVD CopyWare, created by United Kingdom-based Redxpress. Like software from rival 321 Studios, which has been sued by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the CopyWare package will make a perfect copy of DVDs to a blank disc.

Tritton said it is simply trying to help people make backup copies of their own DVDs, not facilitate movie piracy, even though no protections against making multiple copies or making duplicates of copies are included in the software.

"We're not saying burn as many copies (as you want) and sell (them) on the street," Tritton CEO Christopher Von Huben said. "That's not the scope of the software. But we are saying you have the right to make backup copies for your own use."

The argument is unlikely to win the approval of the motion picture industry, which has worked hard to keep any software that can decrypt or copy DVDs out of the hands of consumers.

The MPAA has won one case against Eric Corley and his 2600.com Web site, which posted and then linked to code called DeCSS, which could be used in the process of making copies of DVDs. The group is also in the midst of a lawsuit against 321 Studios, the largest brand of DVD-copying software, which is distributed in stores such as CompUSA.

While many packages of similar software are now available online, retail distribution of such tools--and its threat of bringing DVD ripping to the mainstream--is particularly worrisome to Hollywood studios, which are seeing a spike in consumer sales due to DVD purchases. Tritton's software will also be carried in large retail outlets such as Buy.com, Von Huben said.

A representative of the MPAA could not immediately be reached for comment.

Von Huben said Tritton is willing to fight lawsuits against Hollywood studios if necessary but that his company's role is that of distributor, not a creator. CompUSA has not been sued for distributing 321 Studios' software, he noted.

However, federal judges previously ruled against Corley and 2600 for distribution of the DeCSS software, not for creating it. A controversial federal copyright law makes it illegal to create or distribute any software that circumvents digital copy-protection mechanisms.

"If you're distributing in the United States, you're not shielded by the fact that the software is made somewhere else," said Rusty Weiss, an intellectual property attorney with Morrison & Foerster in Los Angeles.

Much depends on the judge's ruling in the 321 Studios case, however. That software company argues that its DVD backup software is protected by consumer fair use rights, while the MPAA says it violates copyright law.

The judge in that case, who is expected to rule soon, said she was "substantially persuaded" by past rulings in copyright holders' favor.

 

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