Finnish court: DVD copy protection 'ineffective'


BRUSSELS -- A court in Finland has ruled that the Content Scrambling System (CSS) computer code, which unlocks DVD movies, is "ineffective" as a form of digital rights management (DRM).

The decision by the Helsinki District Court is the first to interpret the legality of DVD decoding software under the 2001 EU Copyright Directive.

The court said the CSS no longer achieved its protection objective.

"Since a Norwegian hacker succeeded in circumventing CSS protection used in DVDs in 1999, end-users have been able to get with ease tens of similar circumventing software from the Internet even free of charge," the court said. "Some operating systems come with this kind of software pre-installed." The court concluded that, "CSS protection can no longer be held 'effective' as defined in law."

The two defendants in the case -- hackers who posted the CSS code on their websites -- were found not guilty for violating Finnish copyright law. Mikko Valimaki, who defended the hackers, said the judgment would have major implications. "The conclusions of the court can be applied all over Europe since the word 'effective' comes directly from the directive," he said.

Valimaki said the protection measures were no longer effective when there is widely available end-user software implementing a circumvention method. "My understanding is that this is not technology-dependent," he said. "The decision can therefore be applied to Blu-Ray and HD-DVD as well in the future. In fact, the technological protection measures in these formats have reported been circumvented already. It is only a matter of time when the circumvention methods find their way to popular end-user applications."

The 2001 EU Copyright Directive was drawn up to improve protection across the EU in the digital environment. It allows companies selling digital content to defend their products with copy-protection technology and makes it illegal for anyone to circumvent such technology.

The directive's Article 6, covering 'technical protection measures', allows criminal prosecution for anyone trying to avoid copy restriction measures, such as DVD region locks. Consumers groups have warned that it means all new technologies for recording or playing copyrighted material will be controlled by a few film and music giants.

Content Scramble System (CSS) is a DRM scheme used on almost all DVDs. CSS key sets are licensed to manufacturers who incorporate them into products such as DVD drives, DVD players and DVD movie releases.