In a decision released last week, a Finish court ruling prompts questions over the wording of a European copyright directive that prohibits publishing information that could enable illegal DVD copying.
On Friday, Helsinki District Court judges threw out a case against two men charged with violating copyright law for distributing code that broke the copy-protection technology on DVDs.
The technology is the well-known Content Scrambling System (CSS) used in DVD movies.
The decision is the first in Europe to interpret new copyright law amendments that ban the circumvention of "effective technological measures". The legislation is based on EU Copyright Directive from 2001. According to both Finnish copyright law and the underlying directive, only such protection measure is effective, "which achieves the protection objective."
The background of the case was that after the copyright law amendment was accepted in late 2005, a group of Finnish computer hobbyists opened a website where they posted information on how to circumvent CSS. They appeared in a police station and claimed to have potentially infringed copyright law. Most of the activists thought that either the police does not investigate the case in the first place or the prosecutor drops it if it goes any further. To the surprise of many, the case ended in the Helsinki District Court. Defendants were Mikko Rauhala who opened the website, and a poster who published an own implementation of source code circumventing CSS.
According to the court, CSS no longer achieves its protection objective. The court relied on two expert witnesses and said that "?since a Norwegian hacker succeeded in circumventing CSS protection used in DVDs in 1999, end-users have been able to get with ease tens of similar circumventing software from the Internet even free of charge. Some operating systems come with this kind of software pre-installed." Thus, the court concluded that "CSS protection can no longer be held 'effective' as defined in law." All charges were dismissed.
The defendant?s counsel Mikko V?lim?ki thinks the judgement can have major implications: "The conclusions of the court can be applied all over Europe since the word 'effective' comes directly from the Directive". He continues: "A protection measure is no longer effective, when there is widely availalble end-user software implementing a circumvention method. My understanding is that this is not technology-dependent. The decision can therefore be applied to Blu-ray and HD DVD as well in the future."