DVD judge: Show me the code

The judge in the movie industry's DVD case asks attorneys to submit briefs outlining whether software code can be considered a legally protected form of speech.

NEW YORK -- A federal judge overseeing the movie industry's widely watched case against an Internet publisher has directed attorneys to submit briefs outlining whether software code can be considered a legally protected form of speech.

U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan ordered attorneys representing eight major Hollywood studios and defendant Eric Corley to submit their briefs by Aug. 8.

Judge Kaplan gave the order on the last day of witness testimony in the civil trial in a federal court in Manhattan. The Hollywood studios are seeking an injunction that would prevent Corley from distributing a free software program that unscrambles the coding on DVDs.

The studios argue that by providing the descrambling code on his Web site, Corley is providing bootleggers with the means to make free copies of copyrighted movies. The studios, heavy hitters like Walt Disney Co. (dis) and News Corp.'s (nws) 20th Century Fox Film Corp., are the leading distributors of movies in DVD format.

Corley, on the other hand, testified during the trial that he is a journalist, not a hacker, and should be able to provide the program to the public as the publisher of 2600, a Web site devoted to computer hacking.

The case has attracted some support from First Amendment advocates, who say the industry's efforts to stop Corley's site from even linking to other sites that offer the software is unconstitutional.

To date, the judge has sided with the movie industry, issuing a preliminary injunction earlier this year barring Corley from posting the code. But the comments made Tuesday indicated he wanted to further analyze First Amendment issues related to the case.

Corley's defense attorneys argued during the trial that the movie industry has no evidence indicating that the program has encouraged DVD piracy.

Closing arguments may be heard later this week, or the attorneys could waive them in lieu of the written briefs. The judge didn't indicate when he might hand down a ruling in the case.

After the case wrapped Tuesday, Corley said he thought his legal team had done a good job dispelling the notion that the case was purely about the bootlegging of copyrighted movies.

The case "has nothing to do with piracy," he said. "It's about control of technology."