July 3, 2002 3:20 PM PDT

Copyright fight comes to an end

Hacker publication 2600 magazine won't appeal a ruling prohibiting it from linking to code that can crack copy protections on DVDs, bringing a closely watched digital copyright fight with Hollywood to an end Wednesday.

The case, one of the first major tests of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), handed copyright holders a significant victory last year when a federal appeals court upheld a decision to ban the links.

The major movies studios sued 2600 in 1999 as part of a broad legal effort to stop the distribution of code that can be used to playback DVDs on computers, known as DeCSS. Developed by open-source programmers, DeCSS quickly spread online and eventually morphed into gestures of protest against Hollywood's legal attacks to restrain it, appearing in poems, songs, T-shirts and ties.

In suing 2600, the studios charged that posting and linking to DeCSS violated provisions of the DMCA, including its ban on "trafficking" in tools that can circumvent copy-protection technology. Defendants argued that hyperlinks are a key element of the Web and that the links to DeCSS from the 2600 site should qualify for free-speech protections under the First Amendment.

A federal judge ruled that the DeCSS code is a type of speech, but found it is content-neutral and therefore not entitled to broad First Amendment protections granted to expressive speech, such as poetry.

An appeals court upheld that ruling and then refused 2600's request to reconsider the decision, leaving an appeal to the highest court as the publication's next option.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which represents the magazine, said other cases in the future "will provide a better foundation for the Supreme Court to act on the problems created by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act."

2600's decision not to appeal brings this case to an end, but the publication promised to continue to fight.

"EFF and 2600 magazine will strive to ensure that the public need not sacrifice its side of the copyright bargain to Hollywood's fears of piracy," EFF lawyer Robin Gross said in a statement.

 

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