Chatters, beware of corporate
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
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?