We now turn to a story that has a hacker journalist pitted against the power and money of Hollywood. It’s the story of Eric Corley- who uses the name Emmanuel Goldstein, leader of the underground in George Orwell’s [includes rush transcript]
??1984. He is the editor of 2600: The Hackers Quarterly and host of the radio program Off the Hook at Pacifica station WBAI in New York.
He is currently being sued in a federal court in New York by some of the biggest movie studios in the country.
It’s the case of Universal Studios, Paramount Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Tristar Pictures, Columbia Pictures, Time Warner Entertainment and Twentieth Century Fox vs. Eric Corley.
His alleged crime: posting a computer program called DeCSS (Decode Content Scrambling System) on the 2600 Web site. That program lets users circumvent the copy-protection system of DVDs.
The program originally was developed in Europe to enable users of the Linux operating system to play DVDs on their computers.
Makers of other major operating systems, such as those made by Microsoft and Apple Computer, pay fees to give users access to DVD unscrambling software. But Linux, as an open source system, has no central selling body and relies on its global army of volunteer programmers.
This has enraged the Motion Picture Association of America, Hollywood’s lobbying group. They say this program could be used to copy and distribute DVDs without compensation. But Emmanuel and his supporters point out that it does not take the DeCSS program to copy DVDs. They say this is not what this case is about. I’ve worked with Emmanuel Goldstein for years here at WBAI. On Tuesday night, at the end of his radio show, Off The Hook, we had a chance to talk. I asked him, if this case is not about piracy and illegal copying like the movie industry alleges, what is it about?
- Eric Corley (AKA Emmanuel Goldstein), editor of 2600: The Hacker Quarterly.
AMY GOODMAN: As we move now into our last segment of the program, turning to a story that has a hacker journalist pitted against the power and money of Hollywood. It’s the story of Eric Corley, who uses the name Emmanuel Goldstein, leader of the underground in George Orwell’s 1984. He is the editor of 2600: The Hackers Quarterly and host of the radio program Off the Hook at Pacifica station WBAI here in New York, where we’re broadcasting from.
He is currently being sued in a federal court here by some of the biggest movie studios in the country. It’s the case of Universal Studios, Paramount Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Tristar Pictures, Columbia Pictures, Time Warner Entertainment and Twentieth Century Fox vs. Eric Corley. His alleged crime: posting a computer program called DeCSS (Decode Content Scrambling System) on the 2600 website. That program lets users circumvent the copy-protection system of DVDs. The program originally was developed in Europe to enable users of the Linux operating system to play DVDs on their computers. Makers of other major operating systems, such as those made by Microsoft and Apple Computer, pay fees to give users access to DVD unscrambling software. But Linux, as an open-source system, has no central selling body and relies on its global army of volunteer programmers.
This has enraged the Motion Picture Association of America, Hollywood’s lobbying group. They say the program could be used to copy and distribute DVDs without compensation. We’re going to turn now to Emmanuel Goldstein, who I spoke to just after he came off his program Off the Hook on Tuesday night. I asked him: if this case is not about piracy and illegal copying like the movie industry alleges, what is it all about?
EMMANUEL GOLDSTEIN: Well, it’s about control of DVDs. It’s not about copying, like they’re trying to portray to the media. Basically, what they’re trying to do is take technology and make it so that you can only play DVDs under certain circumstances. You buy a DVD and you try to use on it your computer, you could be breaking the law, even though you’ve bought the DVD and you’ve bought the computer. And they’re trying to use the copyright law, a new copyright law called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, to back this up. It’s something that has never happened before, yet they’re trying to make it seem as if this is what copyright is all about.
AMY GOODMAN: Wait, you have to explain this. You buy a DVD — even that I think some people can’t understand, but they might see it in the video store. It’s a new kind of video?
EMMANUEL GOLDSTEIN: Well, yeah, it’s basically digital versatile disc. It’s going to replace videotapes at some point. They look just like CDs. Let me explain it in a way that people might be able to understand who have not gotten into that at all. Let’s say you buy a CD — most people know what CDs are now — and you buy this CD in England. Well, if that was a DVD, you would not be allowed to play it in the United States. You could only play it on players in the country that you bought it in.
They can go further than that. They can force you to watch commercials on these DVDs, because many times if you rent something at a video store, you’ll get advertisements at the beginning or promotions at the beginning. They can make it so that you can’t skip that, and if you try to skip that, if you figure out a way to bypass it, that’s bypassing the copyright protection. And that’s what this is about: people figuring out ways to use the technology the way they want to use it, rather than the way they’re being told they have to use it.
It’s got nothing to do with copying, because you could always copy DVDs, from day one. In fact, you can go out on the street and find DVDs that are pirated. You can find videotapes all over the place that are pirated. That’s not their issue, and if it were, they would be cracking down on these people. Instead, they’re dragging us into court, because — and we didn’t even figure this out ourselves. All we did was print it as journalists that this was happening, that the encryption was cracked, that people were being threatened with their net access, with their jobs, with their educations. People were being thrown out of school for having this source code on their website.
And it’s a really scary McCarthyist type of a thing when people can be prosecuted for writing or for posting something on their website that explains how something works. And that’s why we took an interest in the story. And not surprisingly, we became the threat as soon as we did that.
AMY GOODMAN: So explain exactly what happened and who has taken you to court.
EMMANUEL GOLDSTEIN: What happened was the Motion Picture Association of America in January succeeded in getting a preliminary injunction against us to remove the source code from our site. Now, they’ve tried since to extend that to what is known as links. Basically a link is something pointing you to another site where you can get this information.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain what this source code is that you’ve posted.
EMMANUEL GOLDSTEIN: The source code basically shows how CSS, which is the encryption scheme used in DVDs, how CSS was cracked. And I’d have to get into really technical issues as to what precisely that is, but the short story is a source code that tells you how weak their encryption system was. They want to erase that. They want to make it as if it never happened, even though their encryption has been cracked. You can’t go back. You can’t say, “Oh, well, it’s really OK. Just everybody forget that it was cracked.” That’s what they’re trying to do.
AMY GOODMAN: And by breaking the code, it allows you to view parts of the DVD and not view other parts of the DVD?
EMMANUEL GOLDSTEIN: Well, cracking the code allows you to have control over how you play back the DVD. It doesn’t make it easy to copy in any sense. You could always copy.
Let me explain something in terms of encrypted files. If you have an encrypted file and you copy it, you still have an encrypted file that can be read by the decrypter. So what people have been doing over the years is simply copying DVDs, encrypted, and playing them back in basically any DVD player, which decrypts them. It’s that simple. Decrypting, that does not allow you to copy DVDs in any easy fashion whatsoever. What it does allow you to do is get past those restrictions saying that you can’t play your DVD on a computer, that you can only play it on a certain type of player in a certain country under certain conditions.
It’s equivalent to say you buy a CD and it’s on Sony, and you can only play it back in a Sony player. You can’t play it back in an RCA player. You have to buy a different one for that. It’s not quite at that stage yet, but this kind of a law would allow for that to happen.
AMY GOODMAN: What are you charged with?
EMMANUEL GOLDSTEIN: I’m charged with violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act by providing access to something that is designed to circumvent a copyright protection. It’s a very long way of saying that we published source code that allows you to figure out how encryption works, or in this case didn’t work.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, is this a felony?
EMMANUEL GOLDSTEIN: It’s a civil case, so right now we’re going through the federal court downtown, and we’re trying to figure out how to convince the judge that what these people are saying is just utter nonsense. These guys, our opponents, have a lot of money, they have a lot of lawyers. I was in their building there in Times Square, and they have every single floor of a twenty-five story building. It’s a really frightening thing.
Basically, it’s an uphill battle, and we have to convince a lot of people what’s going on. It could turn into a criminal case at some point. They already managed to arrest somebody in Norway, because he was suspected of writing the source code, as if that’s a crime, writing something, but that’s what we’re moving into, where if you write down something on a piece of paper you could be arrested.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Emmanuel Goldstein who is on trial now in Manhattan court, being brought to court by the Motion Picture — stands for what?
EMMANUEL GOLDSTEIN: Motion Picture Association of America.
AMY GOODMAN: By the Motion Picture Association of America now. One of their comments is, if they had understood that their movies on DVD could be played, what is it, on the computer, they never would have put this on DVD?
EMMANUEL GOLDSTEIN: No, you see, they don’t lose. That’s the funny thing here. They lose nothing. We’ve said in the many protests that we’ve been to, we’re not their enemy, we’re their customers. We’re trying to play back what we have bought legally on a device, which we have also bought legally.
However, what they want to do is, they want to milk every single company they can for a licensing fee and say that you’re not allowed to support a DVD player on your computer operating system unless you pay us a million dollars or whatever the fee is. And a lot of programmers don’t have that kind of money, so they write their own ways around this kind of thing. It’s how the net was built, so it’s a really bullying way to try and get as much money as they can from these people. I mean, they’re already making a fortune, but they seem to want to increase this even more and expand into this world and hide behind copyright and claim that that’s what they’re doing, when they’re not.
AMY GOODMAN: Are you the only person being sued?
EMMANUEL GOLDSTEIN: Well, I’m the only one left, because really this kind of a thing is extremely stressful, and they had tried suing someone who was an internet service provider who had lots of customers he had to worry about, and just, you know, high school kids, people like that. I mean, these are real bullies out here.
We’re talking — when we say the Motion Picture Association of America, we’re talking about the companies they represent, which is Time Warner, which is Disney, which is Paramount, all the companies. We’re talking about eight major motion picture studios here. And these guys, they own the media, they own everything. So, we’re not going up just against one company here. We’re going up virtually against every major studio in America and all the things that they own beyond that, including newspapers and television stations and radio stations.
Now, we’re just 2600. We’re just a Hacker Quarterly. We can’t back down. If we did, the cost would be much greater than anything we could possibly get by losing. So we have to fight this out to the end, because if we lose this, everybody loses. Everybody loses the right to think for themselves, to write things, to figure out how technology works. It’s a very bad precedent, in fact, people at the protest on Monday were talking to a congressman who walked by, and he was amazed that such a thing could even be passed into law. And I don’t think the people who signed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act had this in mind when it was originally written. We’re seeing companies abusing this, trying to really milk it for all it’s worth and completely misconstrue what it’s all about.
AMY GOODMAN: How does this differ from the Napster controversy, which is, you can go online, you can download music, so you’re not buying the record or CD, and you can listen to it?
EMMANUEL GOLDSTEIN: Well, Napster is a completely different case. Napster basically is a company. DeCSS is a program, and that’s really the major difference right there. Napster has a business going where they sell things to do this, and I’m not going to judge one way or another whether or not what they’re doing is right, because it’s completely unrelated to this case. What DeCSS is, is simply a program that somebody else wrote, and they are the only people, as far as I can see, that have a right to a copyright of that program and can tell people to take it off their websites. Instead, the MPAA feels that because that program defeats their program, that they can outlaw it, and that’s not how it’s worked up until now. Basically they’re changing the rules and trying to make it so that if you write something that figures out a way to bypass something else, then that’s illegal and you could be prosecuted for that.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, sorry for my being so dense, but this program that was written allows you then to take home a DVD disc — like a CD, but it’s also visual, it’s also video — and do what?
EMMANUEL GOLDSTEIN: It allows you to take a DVD, which we assume you’ve already purchased, and if you have a Linux machine, you can play it on your computer now. In addition to your TV set, you can play it on a computer now. Now, you can play it on a Microsoft system, you can play it on a Macintosh — they allow that, because they’ve already paid huge amounts of money for the right to have a DVD player on their operating system — but there’s other open-source operating systems, such as Linux and FreeBSD and all that kind of thing, and they don’t have the same access, because they weren’t given this access. We never had this with CD players. You could play a CD player on any operating system, but now DVDs, they see a way of making even more money by restricting who can play things back. It’s a concept that we’re not even familiar with, so it’s very hard to compare it to something. So that’s what we’re dealing with here. We’re dealing with not being allowed to play something on a computer that you own, when that’s what DVDs were designed to be — that’s how they were designed to be played, on computers and on TV sets.
AMY GOODMAN: And who is representing you?
EMMANUEL GOLDSTEIN: I’m happy to say I’ve got Martin Garbus representing me, who has represented such people as Spike Lee and Lenny Bruce and all kinds of civil rights cases. This guy really gets it. He understands how it all comes together and the importance of it.
AMY GOODMAN: Eric Corley, aka Emmanuel Goldstein, the editor of 2600. You can go to 2600.com. He is currently being sued by the Motion Picture Association of America.