SAN JOSE, Calif. — A small software company that has an office in Berkeley is taking on entertainment behemoths, suing nine major movie studios for the right to sell a program that allows the user to copy commercial DVDs.
St. Louis-based 321 Studios filed a complaint Monday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The software company wants the court to rule that sale of its software, DVD Copy Plus, is legal and does not violate provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
The DMCA was signed into law by President Clinton in 1998 and addresses the issue of copyright protection for a variety of digital media content.
“Our stance is that the DMCA is overbroad and unconstitutional,” 321 Studio’s President and CEO Robert Moore said Wednesday. “We just don’t feel that it’s right to tell the American public that they cannot copy their own property.”
DVD Copy Plus allows the user to make a compressed lower-quality copy of the orginal DVD and burn it onto a blank CD, which can then be viewed in a home DVD player — backing up “Bambi,” if you will.
A spokeswoman for the the Motion Picture Association of America said the trade group was still looking over a copy of the complaint Wednesday and had no comment. The suit names MGM Studios, Tristar Pictures, Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Time Warner Entertainment, Disney Enterprises, Universal City Studios, The Saul Zaentz Company and Pixar Corporation as defendants.
Moore said he has sold 75,000 copies of DVD Copy Plus since July. The software package is not completely proprietary and contains some software that has been available for free over the Internet, Moore added.
There is computer code called DeCSS which allows the user to decrypt the Content Scramble System that most commercial DVD movies employ to prevent unauthorized digital duplication.
Circumvention of the Content Scramble System is prohibited by the DMCA, which reads in part, “No person shall circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title.”
Moore said he isn’t exactly sure what his company’s software does to duplicate DVDs, or if it contains the hotly debated DeCSS code. He said his company does not know if DVD Copy Plus circumvents CSS or merely somehow captures a video stream from the DVD.
For the user, the software works by turning the DVD movie content into a VCD, or Video Compact Disc format, which is about the quality of VHS tape. It usually takes two blank CDs to hold a DVD movie encoded into the VCD format and the discs can be viewed on many common standalone DVD players.
He described the small company as more of a customer service company along the lines of Red Hat, a company that distributes a version of the freely available Linux operating system.
321 Studios also has an offices in Wilmington, Del.