Ruling jeopardizes media copy protection

Ruling jeopardizes media copy protection

Summary: A French court has ruled against copy protection software on DVDs that prevented the plaintiff from copying a DVD of Mulholland Drive into a video tape for "personal use" (which is mildly amusing, as Mulholland Drive is exactly the kind of movie I'd expect would appeal to French tastes).


A French court has ruled against copy protection software on DVDs that prevented the plaintiff from copying a DVD of Mulholland Drive into a video tape for "personal use" (which is mildly amusing, as Mulholland Drive is exactly the kind of movie I'd expect would appeal to French tastes). Software included on the DVD prevented the copy, causing the Frenchman to get mad, so he did a very American thing and filed suit, and presto, he has set a precedent that jeopardizes copy protection on media products in France, if not Europe.

Some will rejoice at the advancement of "fair use" principles to the digital age. I think they are mistaken. "Fair use" was what enabled things like video cassette recorders to be legal. You can't use the threat of copyright-infringing use to stop the release of new technology. Studios, however, aren't stopping people from buying DVD recorders (or video cassette recorders). You can still record the stuff you make, or the broadcasts you receive off the television. What you can't do is copy the product which is sold as a single-copy product.

If I create a software product, I don't expect that anyone should have the right to force me to release the source code so they could distribute their own copies. If I wanted to, fine, I would do that (and have), but nobody is going to tell me I am required to release it. I'd rather stop writing software than have someone infringe on my right to make product however I damn well please.

Similarly, if a musician, or the studios to whom he has sold his rights in return for royalties, choose to release their product under a single-copy license, they have the right to do that. Furthermore, they have the right to design their products however they please, including in a way that actively prevents people from bypassing the single-copy restriction.

This isn't a safety issue. Government requires automakers to meet certain safety standards, and that is good. My life doesn't depend on making a "backup" copy of "The Incredibles" DVD. This is nothing less than an attempt by government (in this case, the judiciary) to dictate how a company can sell their products. IMHO, that is wrong.

As an aside, how is this going to affect Apple's iTunes site? Would this precedent apply to digital copy protection? Methinks it will, and methinks also that if it does, all of France might find itself suddently unable to access iTunes. That's not because Apple wants to do this. Rather, the studios would require it, as they aren't about to let unprotected music flow out through the iTunes site.

Topic: Legal

John Carroll

About John Carroll

John Carroll has delivered his opinion on ZDNet since the last millennium. Since May 2008, he is no longer a Microsoft employee. He is currently working at a unified messaging-related startup.

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  • Excellent news. About time somebody sided with the consumer...

    Nobody wants your source code. What we do want is the ability to protect our purchase. That means we have to be able to make working backup copies in case the original is damaged or lost. I immediately burn a copy of every CD I buy for exactly that reason. No, I don't distribute copies.

    However, more than once I have had a CD become damaged and have had to rely on my backup. According to you and the slimebags at the MPAA/RIAA, I should have to shell out the money again. That is simply not right.

    The same holds true of software. Backup copies are essential. Again, that does NOT require source code. It simply means I need to be able to make a copy. THAT is fair use, pure and simple. That fact that your greed interferes with my fair use is a problem. Apparently the French courts agree with me.

    >>If I create a software product, I don?t expect that anyone should have the right to force me to release the source code so they could distribute their own copies<<
  • I agree to a point,, but....

    But government is there to lay the rules and the Judiciary is there to interpret them. If you dont want to follow rules or interpretation laid out by the government/judiciary dont sell there. Why is everything so America central. By your rational, If i had a Pharmecutical company I could sell tablets that have little bards on them that spring out when you swallow them.. Why can I do this? Becuase its my product and I can sell it anyway I want.
    The media companies are trying to usurp the fair use docterine.. When did the license change on the media? Is it labeled that this is a single use copy? I mean the pharmaceutical companies would have to LABEL THE PACKAGE of tablets with barbs wouldnt they? Why not the media product I buy. Then I could choose what I wanted to buy and from whom.
    Also if the media is bad or becomes unusable would they give me a free replacement? I still have my single use license..... That is what I paid for right?
    I know of one music store that used to do that.. They had to stop, I dont know the reason, maybe you do?
  • Wow, this blog is like a giant troll...of course

    everyone is going to disagree with the idea that you can't copy a dvd to tape.
    I disagree with anti-copy protection just in general. This really has nothing to do with source code. It has to do with making a copy for your own use. If I want to put a movie into my personal portable media player, or suck it into an enteraintment system, or back it up or just play it on my own VCR; I'm buying the movie, NOT the DVD itself. The DVD is worth less than the case, the MOVIE is what we want and also now own a copy.
    I doubt the store will replace the DVD if it breaks. Will the media company put another copy into my portable media player.
    I'm against piracy, but once I get a movie, or a video game, or a piece of software, the first thing I'm doing is backing it up, for my OWN protection.
  • Off In The Ozone

    Boy, you are totally off in the ozone on this post!
  • The companies violated a clear EU law.

    Quotes from the linked article:
    France, along with other European Union members including Germany and Spain, has laws guaranteeing the right of consumers to copy recordings they have purchased for private use.

    The defendants also were found guilty of violating French consumer protection laws, which state that a vendor must notify consumers of a product's essential characteristics.

    The only notification of the copy prevention software on the DVD in this case were the letters "CP," short for "copying prohibited," in small print on the cover, a warning that the court found insufficient.

    This law isn't ambiguous from the sound of it. And it does have real public interest in mind, a back-up copy to protect investment. The idea that "CP" is going to warn consumers that a legal right doesn't apply is silly.

    So, while I agree that companies should be allowed to design their products unfettered, as you've heard at length in the Microsoft case, I don't think this is a case of product design.

    I think it's a case of companies thinking their convenience in their fight against piracy is more important than a basic consumer right. They didn't feel they had to solve the problem of back-up copies. That's arrogance that deserved to be clipped in court.

    Be a good example for the US; consumers have an interest, too. Not just content and electronics companies.
    Anton Philidor
    • None of us should hold our breath

      until this happens in the U.S.