In Cyberspace, Is It OK to Point to Pirates?

  • Share
  • Read Later
How do you protect private property in cyberspace? A California judge will try to tackle that question next week when the latest potentially groundbreaking cyberspace case hits the chambers. This one's a class-action suit by electronics makers against web sites that enable Internet users to download pirated DVDs. It seems that a bunch of Norwegian hackers developed software that allows people to record DVDs from their ROM drives and transmit them over the Net to anyone with the same software — making it possible to produce an infinite number of copies from a single DVD, all at the original quality.

The 72 web sites named as defendants in the suit don't carry the software but have links to sites that do. The plaintiffs, huddled into an industry group called the DVD Copy Control Association, claim that the sites guide users to software known to be illegally pirated. The illegality claim is based on the belief that the hackers either used stolen trade secrets or illegal "reverse engineering" to crack the DVD encryption. But groups that promote the free flow of software "emulators" of anything from DVDs to Sony PlayStations over the Web claim the DVD emulator's inventors stole nothing, but merely figured out how DVDs work. Similar arguments are often put forward by computer makers such as Dell and Compaq when marketing IBM clones. Now it's up to Judge William Elfving of the Santa Clara County Superior Court to decide if the web sites are at fault. Unfortunately for him, there are no precedents to download.