Senior Targeted for Posting DVD Software on FAS Website
Last month, Eliot House resident Raefer C. Gabriel '00 found himself the target of a cease-and-desist letter from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) for his involvement with a controversial DVD copying program.
In January, Gabriel made a program on his computer called DeCSS available for download via the Internet. DeCSS allows a user to copy an entire movie from a DVD to a computer.
Gabriel said that within a week of posting the files and advertising them on an online message board, he was contacted by Eliot House Senior Tutor Margaret Bruzelius '74, who informed him that University Attorney Allan A. Ryan Jr. had received a cease-and-desist order from the MPAA on Feb. 8.
"We hereby demand that you take appropriate steps to cause immediate removal of DeCSS from [your servers]," the order read.
After a week of correspondence with Gabriel and time spent evaluating the case, Ryan asked Gabriel to immediately remove the program from his site.
"I have concluded that the posting of the DeCSS program on your site is prohibited by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act [DMCA], and I ask that you remove or disable it at once," Ryan wrote in an e-mail message to Gabriel.
The DMCA, passed in 1998, makes acts such as circumventing access control measures and distributing technology that does so illegal.
Ryan wrote that Harvard makes decisions on such matters after investigating the claims itself.
"We have a responsibility to keep our system in good and lawful order--we don't take anybody's word for it, and we reach our own conclusions," Ryan wrote.
Gabriel said that he removed the program to avoid any further University action.
Normally, movies on DVD are encrypted through a "content scrambling system," which prevents the material from being played on unlicensed playback devices. DeCSS, a program created last fall, bypasses this encryption system, allowing a user to copy and view movies at will.
The program is at the heart of three ongoing lawsuits filed by the MPAA and movie industry lobbying groups on the basis of the DMCA.
DeCSS gained worldwide attention on Jan. 24, when 16-year-old Jon Johansen of Norway, one of the program's three creators, was detained for questioning by Norwegian officials and charged with violating copyright law.
Since then, the MPAA and other industry groups have filed suits against groups of individuals in California and New York, with preliminary injunctions issued in both states prohibiting the posting of DeCSS.
It was then that Gabriel, an acquaintance of one of the parties involved in the New York suit, decided to post the files.
"We didn't agree with the laws in place," he said. "It was an act of civil disobedience of a mild sort."
While Gabriel did remove the files, he said he still objects to the DMCA and added that Harvard should not have made a decision until rulings were made in the New York and California cases.
"This is something still up for grabs, and still out in the courts...it was premature of Harvard to jump on the side of big business and ignore the issue of consumer rights," Gabriel said.
Ryan, however, said that the preliminary injunction seemed a clear indication from the courts that distributing DeCSS is illegal.
"When congress passed the DMCA, they said, in effect, that it is unlawful to post the utility that is designed circumvent copyright protection," Ryan said. "If there had been no court decision on that, we'd have to figure out if [DeCSS] does or doesn't violate the law on our own. But there was a clear ruling from the courts that said this violates the act."
Ryan added that Harvard was responsible for maintaining the legality of anything available through its servers.
"We have to take a stance on requiring people who use our system follow the law," he said. "We're responsible for what's on the system."