Legal Personal Technology

Copy rights under fire

In 1984, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that VCRs were legal, and that consumers of television news and programs were legally entitled to both copy copyrighted material and “time shift” (take that, Tivo/Replay opponents).

The Supreme Court held that a product cannot be banned simply because it might result in copyright infringement:

“[T]he sale of copying equipment, like the sale of other articles of commerce, does not constitute contributory infringement if the product is widely used for legitimate, unobjectionable purposes. Indeed, it need merely be capable of substantial noninfringing uses.” (464 U.S. 417, 442)

Flash forward 20 years. Last week, a US Federal Judge ruled that consumers do not have the right to make a back-up copy of a DVD, based on an interpretation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The ruling specifically affected DVD X Copy, software capable of duplicating copy-protected DVDs.

This is the third copyright ruling to rest on the 1998 DMCA, prohibiting consumers from making personal, digital copies of the same content that they can legally copy in the non-digital (analog) world.

On Monday, 321 Studios, which makes DVD X Copy, launched a five-day, sound-off public affairs campaign. Wednesday is “call the studios” day, and Thursday is “contact Congress” day.

The sophisticated web site — which had to be in the works prior to last week’s decision – includes a phone list of Hollywood executives, a comprehensive media directory tied to “letter to the editor” functionality; a form-letter to Congress; and state-specific voter guides.

Monday was “tell the press” day — and news and editorials have begun trickling in, based on

Ironically, also on Monday the Committee for Economic Development released a report suggesting that “tough new laws to protect copyrighted materials from online piracy is bad for business and for the economy,” according to the New York Times. The report cited Apple’s iTunes store as an example of new ways to accomodate digital distribution of copyrighted material.

The Batallion (Texas A&M – 3 Mar); San Jose Mercury News (1 Mar); NYT (1 Mar); PC Magazine (1 Mar); Wired (23 Feb); CED Report (PDF); Sony BetaMax Decision (1984); Creative Commons Moving Pictures Winner (another view on copyrights – .mov)

By Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, speaker, writer, educator. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill

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