Wednesday, September 5, 2001 Volume 67, Issue 10


 
 









 
Chatters, beware of corporate laws

Michael Ahlf

Anyone who has ever gone on the Internet and posted something on a chat board should be afraid. Be very afraid. Be especially afraid if you've bad-mouthed a movie, or done
something that could cause the movie industry to lose money. You see, by virtue of a California appellate court's ruling handed down Aug. 8, just about any movie company can
drag you into court in California.

The case is Pavlovich vs. Superior Court of Santa Clara Co. & DVD-CCA (the DVD-CCA is the DVD Copy Control Association). It's one of the ongoing cases involving DVD
encryption, our old friend DeCSS (software used to play DVDs on a Linux operating system) and the stranglehold that movie companies want to have over our right to use the
products we buy.

On the surface, it's pretty simple. Matthew Pavlovich was the guy who ran a mailing list called LiVID and an associated Web site. The list was a forum for software programmers
trying to create a DVD player that would run on the Linux operating system, but which would be open source and compete with the DVD-CCA's monopoly on such players. At
the time, he was a student at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind.

Of course, one thing the LiVID crowd discussed was DeCSS, a program that could decrypt the DVD files. The DVD-CCA claims the reverse engineering that made DeCSS
possible was illegal and a misappropriation of trade secrets. It's an obvious step -- if you can't decrypt the files, all you'll ever play back is garbage.

The DVD-CCA claims that distribution of DeCSS harms movie companies because it allows for DVD piracy. Leap of logic No. 1 then says that whatever harms movie companies
harms Hollywood, Calif. The court's brief on the matter says that Pavlovich is connected to Hollywood because he knew anecdotally that Hollywood is where movie companies
are often headquartered.

It also states that because Pavlovich was a computer user and knew that Silicon Valley is in California, he was connected to California in that way as well. That would be leap of
logic No. 2.

Pavlovich, of course, sees it differently. For most of the time, he was at Purdue. Right now, he lives in Texas. The LiVID project was open to the entire world, not just California.
What connects it to California? Only the fact that the people suing him happen to be based there.

It's an example of something that has been given a rather ominous name, because it happens frequently -- "forum shopping." Corporations have the option of suing individuals
or smaller corporations in inconvenient places, far from their homes or the physical location of the complaints, because any national or international corporation has a lawyer in
almost every major city.

The DVD-CCA is trying to drag Pavlovich to California. Dmitry Sklyarov, a Russian citizen, was ambushed when he presented a scholarly paper in the United States and is now
being accused of violating the Digital Millenium Copyright Act of 1998, even though the accusations are based on something that was 100 percent legal when it was done in
Russia.

Network Solutions, Inc., claims that all small domain name holders with disputes must resolve them in Virginia -- even if it's a Canadian citizen versus a Canadian corporation,
over a Canadian trademark.

Despite the appellate court's opinion that fax machines and discount air travel make it easy for Pavlovich to defend himself in a forum half a continent away from his own
location, it isn't. Further, this is just the sort of precedent that hurts other cases. Imagine if the video game industry were to counter-sue the parents of the Columbine incident in
Texas courts. After all, id Software is located here, and they're responsible for creating the game <I>Doom<P>, one of the "big-name" games that supposedly taught the
miscreants how to be evil and shoot their peers in the head.

You'd think it would get laughed out of court -- but then again, according to this court's logic, the damage to id Software's image from that incident is great. Therefore, Texas was
injured -- ergo any similar long-arm statute of Texas should open this case up for litigation.

It's an extreme case, but we've already seen a Russian dragged into American court for breaking American laws while in Russia, so who's to say that the extreme can't happen?

Alhf, a senior electrical engineering 
major, can be reached at mahlf@mail.uh.edu.


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