WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The seven largest U.S. movie studios filed their own lawsuits Friday to prevent several Internet sites from distributing a program that could allow copying of DVD movies.
The lawsuits, filed in federal courts in New York and Connecticut, followed a broader lawsuit filed last month in state court in California by a DVD equipment manufacturers group.
At issue is a program called DeCSS, written by a Norwegian programmer, that allows users to bypass the encryption scheme used on DVDs to prevent unauthorized copying.
But many Internet users and programmers say the software had a simpler, less insidious goal. They said the program was needed to allow people to watch DVD movies on computers running the Linux operating system.
The studios argued that by allowing potential illegal copying, the program violated U.S. copyright law. They asked the courts to prohibit four people from distributing the program on their Web sites.
A spokesman for the Motion Picture Association of America, the studios' lobbying group, said the Web sites involved were http://www.dvd-copy.com, http://www.krackdown.com and http://www.ct2600.com. Dozens of other Web sites have also carried either the program or source code instructions showing how to write the program.
"This is a case of theft," said Jack Valenti, president of the association. "The posting of the de-encryption formula is no different from making and then distributing unauthorized keys to a department store."
The people who posted the code said they had done nothing wrong, insisting that the program was meant to allow viewing of DVD movies under Linux.
"I don't have illegal copies of movies on my site," said Shawn Reimerdes, a computer programmer who maintains the dvd-copy.com Web site. "Just posting these files shouldn't be illegal."
Internet advocacy groups have also opposed the lawsuits, arguing that the posting of computer codes on a Web site is a form of speech protected by the First Amendment.
"This is definitely an infringement on freedom of speech," said Shari Steele, director of legal services at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based cyber-rights advocacy group. "What has been done was totally legal. Posting of the program is legal and there are no pirated movies here."
Chris DiBona, who promotes Linux use for VA Linux Systems Inc. , said the industry had refused to help create a program to play DVDs under Linux.
"The whole reason this happened is because the movie industry itself didn't support Linux," DiBona said. "They thought they could keep this a secret. They failed."
The lawsuit relied on the 1998 Millennium Digital Copyright Act, which outlawed the distribution of products designed to crack copyright protection schemes.
"If you can't protect that which you own, then you don't own anything," MPAA's Valenti said.
In the California case, the court last month turned down the industry's request for a temporary restraining order against a much wider array of defendants, many of whom had only provided a link on their Web page to a page containing the actual program. A hearing is scheduled for next week.
Friday's lawsuits were filed by Buena Vista Pictures, a unit of Walt Disney Co., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc., Paramount Pictures Corp., a unit of Viacom Inc., Sony's Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc., News Corp.'s Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp., Universal Studios Inc., a unit of Seagram Co., and Warner Bros., a unit of Time Warner Inc.