During Meliora Weekend, UR is hosting a talk on Saturday named
?Freedom of Speech.? Invited to discuss first amendment issues in today?s society was Federal Judge Lewis Kaplan, who granted an injunction to the Motion Picture Association of America to stop the distribution of DeCSS, which converts data on a DVD into raw MPEG video.
In a weekend focused on freedom in America, why was a judge who has restricted fair use and free speech invited?
Kaplan ruled on a recent federal court case in New York against 2600: The Hacker Quarterly for posting DeCSS on its website. 2600 was sued by the MPAA because they believed that the code would be used to copy DVDs for illegal trading, especially over the Internet.
His ruling also prevented linking to sites with the DeCSS code posted. If this precedent stands, news organizations around the world will be open to lawsuits for linking to DeCSS from their stories.
In the proceedings of the court case, there were copies of the DeCSS code in various court papers, some available on the Internet. Can people use Kaplan?s precedent to sue the federal court system for having DeCSS code?
Kaplan has created a fear that people may come under fire for unknowingly linking to banned speech. The difference between posting DeCSS code, and using a tool to pirate DVDs, was completely muddled in the case against 2600.
One can?t imagine a person being sued for owning rat poison because it could be used to poison someone ? however, Kaplan?s ruling smells of the same hypocrisy. It removes having to commit a crime and bans having a tool that could possibly be used illegally ? regardless of how it actually is used.
Kaplan has struck at free speech protection of computer code in grand fashion. With vitriolic comments that ?computer code is not purely expressive any more than the assassination of a political figure is purely a political statement,? one has to doubt his dedication to freedom of speech.
Days ago, without giving a reason, Kaplan cancelled his appearance at the ?Freedom of Speech? talk this weekend. While it is understandable that uncontrollable circumstances may be the cause, the lack of a reason is suspect.
If Kaplan had discussed his decision to heavily restrict the distribution of the DeCSS code on the Internet, the UR community would have had the chance to hear his arguments and make judgements on his stance. Why has Kaplan not allowed us this and reduced us to making assumptions about how his ruling is compatible with the freedom of speech?
Grabski can be reached at email@example.com.