- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 14, 2003

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Movie buffs who make copies of DVDs are running into a formidable enemy - Hollywood.

Painfully aware of technology’s impact in the music industry, filmmakers are going to court this week in an effort to bar increasingly popular software that lets people copy DVD movies onto inexpensive blank discs at home.

With two mouse-clicks, one such package creates a near-perfect copy of a two-hour feature in as little as 20 minutes.

The legal battle, which focuses on software products sold by 321 Studios Inc. of Chesterfield, Mo., is emerging as one of the most significant technology debates in years. Congress, which once appeared inclined to intervene, is sitting out until the courtroom fight gets resolved.

The powerful Motion Picture Association of America argues that this type of software circumvents the anticopying digital “locks” that studios employ on DVDs, which would be illegal under the 1998 copyright law. There are typically no such locks on music CDs.

The MPAA maintains that consumers aren’t permitted to make personal backups of DVDs, saying a movie buff whose disc becomes scratched needs to buy a new one.

Consumer-rights organizations and some technology groups contend that copying software doesn’t unlawfully help users violate copyrights, because consumers should be allowed under “fair use” copyright provisions to make backups of DVDs they’ve already purchased.

“The future of our company is at stake. The future of consumers’ expectations and what they perceive to be their rights are in question,” says Robert Moore, the head of 321 Studios, which sells its copying software for $99. “This case represents something very significant. It could set the standard.”

The latest software product from Mr. Moore’s company, “DVD Xpress,” is enough to cause studio executives fits. Unlike similar programs that can take hours to make copies and span most Hollywood movies across two blank discs, Xpress can quickly put a good copy onto a single disc.

“If I own the DVD and make a copy for my own personal use, there should be no problem with that,” said Brian Martin, a computer consultant in Laurel, Md., who doesn’t use 321’s software but has followed the technology debate. “They’re being a little overzealous in stopping me from protecting my assets.”

In a minor concession to Hollywood, 321’s software adds to each blank disc a warning about copyright laws and refuses to make further copies from a duplicate disc. But experts note that other copying software, freely available on the Internet, doesn’t include such concessions and can make third- and fourth-generation copies just as perfectly.

“It’s almost to the point of a one-click operation, where even the average Joe can make a DVD backup,” says Adam Sleight of San Diego, who runs the popular www.mrbass.org Web site with instructions on copying DVD movies.

Mr. Sleight says he’s copied hundreds of DVD movies onto blank discs, including many Disney films for his two children. One advantage of his efforts: When Mr. Sleight makes copies, he eliminates five to 10 minutes of previews and advertisements that typically precede his children’s movies.

He acknowledges that “probably the majority of people” use such software to make illegal duplicates, such as copies of DVD rentals or movies borrowed from friends.

“That is probably what happens a lot of the time, but I think the movie studios should prioritize,” Mr. Sleight said.

“They should target the people in China and the street vendors who sell them at a profit. The true thieves are the people who make a profit off them.”

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