Linux expert blasts movie industry over DVD

Attacking DVD hackers is tantamount to 'terror' tactics according to Linux guru, Alan Cox. Will Knight reports from the LinuxWorld Expo in New York

Internationally renowned Linux expert and kernel hacker Alan Cox, has endorsed Linus Torvalds' damning assessment of the current legal wranglings over the distribution of source code for playing DVD on the Linux platform.

Cox says Hollywood is trying to "terrorise" people in its pursuit of 'pirates' and suggests it look at the disastrous campaign headed by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) in 1998 when it tried to outlaw MP3. The RIAA was widely regarded as a defensive and archaic ogre following its embarrassing legal defeat at the hands of Diamond Multimedia -- now S3 -- following the launch of its Rio MP3 player.

Says Cox, "I can see why people like the MPA (Motion Picture Association) have real issues, because obviously you do need to do something to prevent real piracy. The trouble is that they're not going out to the real pirates. They're going out to the people who are buying their products and who want to watch them and want to use them in a fair and reasonable manner."

Cox believes better technology is the solution, but concedes the challenge is significant. "Really they need to find a better copy protection system," he says. "One that doesn't stop copying, but means that they (Hollywood) can actually go back and say, 'you made the copy, it came from your DVD player, you're in trouble.' So that people making fair copies are not hindered in any way. That's hard both technically and politically.

"The music industry already had an exceedingly bad reputation over the MP3 stuff and they've just set themselves up in the eyes of the whole of the technical Community as a bunch of bad guys," Cox says.

In October, an international group of programmers published the source code for a program that broke the encryption protecting DVDs from playing on unauthorised platforms.

Sixteen-year-old Jon Johansen of Norway was charged with copyright violation and interrogated by police. The program, known as DeCSS, circumvents the Content Scrambling System (CSS), which blocks unauthorised players from playing DVDs.

Cox is not alone in his thinking: in an unprecedented allegiance with the technical community, civil liberties groups have waded into the fray with equal candour on Hollywood's actions and motives. Tara Lemmey, Executive Director of online civil liberties organisation, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), recently issued a statement saying: "The motion picture industry is using its substantial resources to intimidate the technical community into surrendering rights of free expression and fair use of information. These actions are a wake-up call for the technical community. The process of reverse-engineering, public posting and commenting on code that the MPAA is attempting to suppress is fundamental to the development of commercial and open source software."

The MPA was contacted but failed to return calls by press time

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