A Finnish court ruling is prompting questions over the wording of a European copyright directive that prohibits publishing information that could enable illegal DVD copying.
On Friday, Helsinki District Court judges threw out a case against two men charged with violating copyright law for distributing code that broke the copy-protection technology on DVDs.
The code and programs allow for the decryption of DVDs using CSS (content scrambling system), a form of DRM (digital rights management) to prevent illegal copying, said Mikko Rauhala, one of the men who was charged.
In 2005, Finland passed a law that mirrors a European Union (EU) directive from 2001 dealing with copyright, according to Mikko Välimäki, Rauhala's attorney, on his blog.
The EU directive prohibits the promotion or creation of tools to circumvent technologies designed to protect copyright as long as that technology "achieves the protection objective”.
In protest, Rauhala and other activists purposely created programs and posted information on a web forum on how to break CSS, violating the law. Then, in early 2006, Rauhala and seven other activists voluntarily turned themselves into Helsinki police.
"They [the police] seemed to know we were coming," said Rauhala, who contends the law violates free speech rights. "They were quite polite and took our confessions."
He, as well as another man, were charged in February. But on Friday, the court dismissed the cases, determining that CSS is "ineffective" and does not "achieve the protection objective" as stated by law.
The court heard from two technical experts, one for the prosecutor and one for the defence, who testified the CSS copy protection technology does little to stop consumers from copying DVDs due to an abundance of programs and decryption tools. CSS was cracked just a few years after its release by three hackers, including a 16-year-old Norwegian.
The court's decision is important because many EU countries have also used the same wording in their laws as is used the EU directive, wrote Zohar Efroni, a fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Intellectual Property, Competition and Tax Law in Munich.
"This is apparently the first European court to interpret the directive’s definition of 'effective technological measure,' and this beginning is quite startling," Efroni wrote on the blog of Stanford Law School's Center for Internet and Society programme.
However, the ruling offers no definition as to when a copy-protection measure can be considered ineffective. But it could mean a tougher time, at least in Finland, of prosecuting those who publish code to break AACS (Advanced Access Content System), the copy-protection technology used in the new HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc high-definition formats.
"There are no reasons why it [the ruling] could not be applicable for example to the new movie formats," Välimäki wrote.
Välimäki cautioned, however, that Helsinki District Court is an entry-level court in the Finnish legal system, and the ruling doesn't set a legal precedent. Prosecutor Kokka-Maaria Kankaala said on Monday she hasn't decided whether to appeal to a higher court, but she has until Friday to make that decision.
Rauhala, a systems administrator in the computer science department at the University of Helsinki, said he is "quite ready to fight on" if Kankaala appeals.
"I think the decision was quite clear, so I'm not sure if she necessarily wants to drag this on any further," he said.