Universal City Studios, Inc. v. Reimerdes

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Universal v. Reimerdes)
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Universal v. Reimerdes
CourtUnited States District Court for the Southern District of New York
Full case nameUniversal City Studios, Inc., Para-Mount Pictures Corporation, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Inc., Tristar Pictures, Inc., Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc., Time Warner Entertainment Co., L.P., Disney Enterprises, Inc. and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, Plaintiffs, v. Shawn C. Reimerdes, Eric Corley a/k/a "Emmanuel Goldstein," Roman Kazan, and 2600 Enterprises, Inc., Defendants.
DecidedAugust 17, 2000
Citation(s)111 F.Supp.2d 294 111 F.Supp.2d 346
Case history
Prior action(s)82 F.Supp.2d 211,
Subsequent action(s)273 F.3d 429
Plaintiffs are entitled to appropriate injunctive and declaratory relief.
Court membership
Judge(s) sittingLewis A. Kaplan

Universal City Studios, Inc. v. Reimerdes was the first test of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), a United States federal law.

The plaintiffs, 8 movie studios, successfully sought an injunction against the distribution of DeCSS, a program capable of decrypting content protected using the Content Scramble System (a DRM scheme commonly used to protect DVDs.) It was produced and released without a license from DVD Copy Control Association (DVD CCA), the trade organization responsible for DVD copy protection. DeCSS was released in October 1999 on LiViD, a mailing list focused on producing programming tools and software libraries relevant to DVD use on Linux. The motion picture industry became aware of the existence of DeCSS later that same month and began litigation on a number of fronts.[1]

Procedural history[edit]

District court[edit]

On January 14, 2000, eight movie studios (Universal City Studios, Inc., Paramount Pictures Corporation, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Inc., Tristar Pictures, Inc., Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc., Time Warner Entertainment Co., Disney Enterprises, Inc. and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation) filed a lawsuit against Eric Corley (publisher of 2600: The Hacker Quarterly magazine), Shawn Reimerdes, Roman Kazan and 2600 Enterprises, Inc.[2] The movie studios claimed that all three defendants, by making available DeCSS, were 'trafficking in circumvention devices', an illegal act under the DMCA.[3] The studios sought injunctive relief in the form of a court order preventing the defendants from further publicizing or disseminating the DeCSS program, as well as damages.

In mid-January, shortly after the suit was filed, the Court granted a preliminary injunction barring defendants from posting DeCSS.[4] This action allowed the court to prevent the further dissemination of DeCSS until the court could officially decide the legality of disseminating DeCSS. The court felt this precaution was necessary given that the movie studios supplied a reasonable argument that widespread dissemination of DeCSS would cause irreparable harm to their interests.[5]

After the preliminary injunction was issued, Reimerdes and Kazan both entered into consent decrees with the plaintiffs and were subsequently dropped from the suit.[6] The consent decree that Reimerdes entered into barred him both from posting the code for DeCSS and from linking to other sites that did so.[7] Reimerdes was originally sued because he hosted the source code for DeCSS on dvd-copy.com, a personal website.[8] The consent decree that Kazan entered into was similar to Reimerdes'. Kazan was initially sued because he ran an internet hosting service that hosted websites offering DeCSS.[9]

Corley removed DeCSS from 2600.com after the preliminary injunction was issued, but did not reach a settlement agreement. 2600 Enterprises Inc. was also added to the lawsuit after the preliminary injunction was issued. Although Corley removed the source code for DeCSS, in what Corley termed an act of "electronic civil disobedience," 2600.com continued to host links to other websites that hosted the source code for DeCSS. By July 2000, they had compiled links to nearly 500 such sites.[citation needed]

The defendants sought to invalidate the DMCA itself on constitutional and other grounds. After a three-day trial, United States District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan issued an 89-page ruling on August 17, 2000, upholding the motion picture industry's position and the constitutionality of the DMCA.[10]

In the final analysis, the dispute between these parties is simply put if not necessarily simply resolved. Plaintiffs have invested huge sums over the years in producing motion pictures in reliance upon a legal framework that, through the law of copyright, has ensured that they will have the exclusive right to copy and distribute those motion pictures for economic gain. They contend that the advent of new technology should not alter this long established structure. Defendants, on the other hand, are adherents of a movement that believes that information should be available without charge to anyone clever enough to break into the computer systems or data storage media in which it is located. Less radically, they have raised a legitimate concern about the possible impact on traditional fair use of access control measures in the digital era. Each side is entitled to its views. In our society, however, clashes of competing interests like this are resolved by Congress. For now, at least, Congress has resolved this clash in the DMCA and in plaintiffs' favor. Given the peculiar characteristics of computer programs for circumventing encryption and other access control measures, the DMCA as applied to posting and linking here does not contravene the First Amendment.

Judge Kaplan also spoke to the legality of Corley and 2600.com's continued linking to sites that offered DeCSS for download, saying

To the extent that defendants have linked to sites that automatically commence the process of downloading DeCSS upon a user being transferred by defendants' hyperlink there, there can be no serious question. Defendants are engaged in the functional equivalent of transferring DeCSS code to the user themselves.

Substantially the same is true of defendants' hyperlinks to web pages that display nothing more than the DeCSS code or present the user only with the choice of commencing a download of DeCSS and no other content...

In addition to the legal opinion issued by Judge Kaplan affirming the constitutionally of the DMCA and rejecting the defendant's arguments, Kaplan also issued a second document permanently enjoining Corley from engaging in any activities related to the further dissemination of DeCSS or any other content protection schemes developed for DVDs.[11]

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit[edit]

The case was appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, attracting fifteen amicus curiae briefs.[12] After a hearing on May 1, 2001 a three judge panel (Judges Newman, Cabranes and Thompson) affirmed Judge Kaplan on November 28.[12]

Although Judge Kaplan's opinion was upheld, the appellate court did agree with the view (held by Corley) that computer programs are a form of protected speech regardless of whether they are in source code or object code form, which commentators regarded as significant.[13] They also agreed with Corley that the DMCA was properly subject to intermediate scrutiny. The appellate court's opinion focused on Corley's First Amendment defenses. Citing the precedent set in Hill v. Colorado that law that incidentally restricts speech for reasons that are "justified without reference to the content of regulated speech", are not unconstitutional, the appellate court found, like the district court had, that even though DeCSS was a form of speech, it was constitutional to limit it because the limitations were related to the functionality of DeCSS, and not the content of the speech.[12][13]

The court also considered Corley's fair use defense, but said the specific facts of the suit put the constitutionality of the DMCA's effect on fair use beyond the scope of the case,[13] because the defendants had not claimed to be engaging in fair use themselves. The ruling noted, "In the first place, the Appellants do not claim to be making fair use of any copyrighted materials, and nothing in the injunction prohibits them from making such fair use. They are barred from trafficking in a decryption code that enables unauthorized access to copyrighted materials."[12] The appellate court also held that the encryption did not prevent "a variety of traditional fair uses of DVD movies, such as commenting on their content, quoting excerpts from their screenplays, and even recording portions of the video images and sounds on film or tape by pointing a camera, a camcorder, or a microphone at a monitor as it displays the DVD movie. The fact that the resulting copy will not be as perfect or as manipulable as a digital copy obtained by having direct access to the DVD movie in its digital form, provides no basis for a claim of unconstitutional limitation of fair use."[12]

Reception and subsequent developments[edit]

Both the district and appellate court rulings were controversial, and have been widely criticized by free speech advocates such as the ACLU and the EFF, as well as other groups such as the American Library Association, the author of The Boondocks,[14] and others. Some organizations, such as the NFL and MLB, supported the decisions.[15]

Corley initially planned to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, but decided not to after consultation with his lawyers.[16] Despite the courts' rulings, DeCSS is still widely available on the Internet.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Informal DeCSS History Timeline". Retrieved 2011-11-11.
  2. ^ Jones, Dow (15 January 2000). "Hollywood Studios Join Legal Battle To Stop DVD Copying". NY Times. Retrieved 10 October 2011.
  3. ^ Mihet, Harry (14 February 2002). "University City Studies, Inc. v. Corley: The Constitutional Underpinnings of Fair Use Remain an Open Question". Duke L & Tech Rev.
  4. ^ "Court Tells Web Sites to Remove Code". NY Times. 24 January 2000. Retrieved 10 October 2011.
  5. ^ "Universal City Studios, Inc. v. Reimerdes, 82 F. Supp. 2d 211 - Dist. Court, SD New York 2000". Retrieved 2011-11-11.
  6. ^ Menard, Brian (2001). "And the shirt off your back: Universal City Studios, DECSS, and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act". Rutgers Computer & Technology Law Journal. 27: 371–408.
  7. ^ Cave, Damien (7 August 2000). "A hacker crackdown?". Salon. Retrieved 10 October 2011.
  8. ^ "Movie Studios File DVD Hack Suit". Reuters. 14 January 2000. Retrieved 13 October 2011.
  9. ^ Howe, Jeff (1 February 2000). "Fade to Black The Motion Picture Association Shuts Down Crypto Research". Village Voice. Retrieved 13 October 2011.
  10. ^ "Universal City Studios, Inc. v. Reimerdes, 111 F. Supp. 2d 294 - Dist. Court, SD New York 2000". Retrieved 2011-11-11.
  11. ^ "Universal City Studios, Inc. v. Reimerdes, 111 F. Supp. 2d 346 - Dist. Court, SD New York 2000". Retrieved 2011-11-11.
  12. ^ a b c d e "Universal City Studios, Inc. v. Corley, 273 F. 3d 429 - Court of Appeals, 2nd Circuit 2001". Retrieved 2011-11-11.
  13. ^ a b c Mark A. Lemley; et al. (2011). Software and internet law (4th ed.). New York: Wolters Kluwer Law & Business. ISBN 978-0-7355-8915-5.
  14. ^ Poulsen, Kevin (3 March 2001). "DeCSS makes the funny pages". The Register. Retrieved 17 October 2011.
  15. ^ "NFL, musicians urge court to uphold DeCSS ruling". CNet. 28 February 2001. Retrieved 17 October 2011.
  16. ^ Leyden, John (4 July 2002). "2600 withdraws Supreme Court appeal in DeCSS case". The Register. Retrieved 13 October 2011.

External links[edit]