Stop wearing our DVD code!

Copyleft, the maker of a T-shirt displaying code to a DVD-cracking program, is added to a high-profile piracy lawsuit

A geek-chic retailer who printed the source code for a DVD decryption program on T-shirts is the latest target of a lawsuit claiming defendants co-opted the secrets behind DVD encryption.

The DVD Copy Control Association (DVD CCA) on Monday added Copyleft to a California lawsuit alleging misappropriation of trade secrets, taking Copyleft founder Steve Blood by surprise.

"We've been marketing this since last January," Blood said. "It seems a bit late." According to the subpoena he received Monday, the DVD CCA had trouble locating him, despite the fact that the organisation's Web site is easy to find.

Lawyers at Weil, Gotshal & Manges -- the firm representing the DVD CCA -- could not be reached for comment on the case.

The lawsuit, filed in December, charges almost 80 defendants worldwide with misappropriation of trade secrets. Each of the defendants posted the code for a program known as DeCSS, a program that breaks the content scrambling system on digital video discs.

Cracking the encryption can be the first step to turning a large DVD file into a much smaller MPEG-4 or DivX file. A user could legally copy the file to a CD-ROM for playback on a PC since changing the format of a file is considered fair use under the Audio Home Recording Act.

A user who trades the same file on the Internet or at a swap meeting -- or even shares the file with a friend -- violates the fair use provision. In its lawsuit, the association claims that has already occurred.

What is not clear is whether copying the code violates a separate law, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The association's lawsuit claims it does.

"Defendants' posting of the proprietary information licensed by DVD CCA on their Web sites has caused the illegal pirating of the motion picture industry's copyrighted content contained on DVDs," stated the DVD CCA in its complaint.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) -- a nonprofit cyber-rights group that represents many of the defendants in the DVD cases -- has focused less on unproven piracy claims and more on the impact of banning the distribution of code. "If you can put it on a T-shirt, it's speech," said Robin Gross, staff attorney for the EFF. "To enjoin the T-shirts as a circumvention device is ludicrous."

Informed of the subpoena on Tuesday, the EFF is currently discussing whether to add Copyleft to its stable of defendants.

The T-shirts are sold for $15 on the Copyleft Web site and have become best sellers, with $4 from each shirt going to the EFF to fund its defence, said Copyleft's Blood.

"The whole idea of Copyleft is to support various free software initiatives," he said, who added that the organisation has raised almost $12,000 so far.

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