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Hollywood targets DVD "fair use" copy maker

Seven Hollywood motion picture studios have countersued the creator of consumer software that allows the personal copying of commercial DVD titles. The defendant, 321 Studios, contends its software allows DVD customers to make personal copies of discs under the principles of "fair use."

The Dec. 24th filing in federal court in San Francisco, Calif., charged that 321 Studios of St. Louis, Mo., is violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) by selling its consumer-oriented DVD copying programs, DVD X Copy and DVD Copy Plus.

The new suit responds to a lawsuit filed last April by 321 Studios, who asked the federal court to rule that its DVD copying software is legal under the "fair use" doctrine because it allows DVD owners to make personal copies of programs they already own.

321 Studios recently released DVD X Copy, a $100 application that allows Windows PC users to make an exact duplicate of a DVD on a standard DVD burner. DVD Copy Plus, $50, an older product, allows compressed copies of DVDs to be made, resulting in lower image quality than the originals.

The studios claim that 321's software is causing them "grave and irreparable harm." They are seeking an injunction prohibiting 321 from selling or manufacturing its DVD-copying products and are asking the court to order the company to turn over to the studios "all computer disks, computer drives and other physical objects embodying all, or any part," of DVD Copy Plus and DVD X Copy.

The lawsuits highlight a pivotal issue facing the makers and users of digital media. Copyright owners are fearful that without anti-copying technology and strong laws to support it that they will lose control over their premium content. Users, who enjoyed home copying rights in the analog era, are fighting to maintain those rights as digital technology takes hold.

The company has aggressively positioned its right to sell DVD copying software as a public crusade.

"321 Studios believes that consumers who copy DVDs for their personal use are exercising their right of "fair use" - an exception to copyright law that has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in order to avoid an irreconcilable conflict between copyright law and the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech," the company states on its Web site at

That backup privilege should apply equally to all media, whether copying a DVD, a VHS tape, an audio CD, or a CD-ROM. "321 Studios and its products serve as the bridge between copyright laws and the general consumer's rights under the fair use doctrine," said the software maker, adding that it supports Hollywood's creative artists and opposes piracy of any kind.

Three anti-piracy measures are built into DVD X Copy, according to 321 Studios: 1) A public disclaimer electronically embedded in the backup copy of the DVD; 2) An electronic watermark that can trace piracy back to the point of purchase; and, 3) An embedded code that prevents making a copy of a copy.

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