Legal pressure forces DVD software off shelves

Copies of 321 Studios’ DVD X Copy software have been pulled from retail shelves after distributor Conexus was threatened with legal action by an industry lobby group.

In December 2003, Conexus received a letter from the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT), previously known as the Australian Film and Video Security Office (AFVSO), directing them to pull the product immediately or be sued.

The software in question allows users to create copies of DVDs.

“The letter advised Conexus that, according to AFACT’s interpretation, the product was infringing Australian copyright law,” a spokesperson for Conexus, Steven Noble, said. “They were told that legal action would follow if they continued to distribute it.”

Resellers that stocked the product were also contacted and advised that they should remove not just DVD X Copy, but 321 Studios’ entire product line. This included DVD X Maker, DVD X Show and CD X Rescue - products that do not involve the copying of DVDs.

“These other products were not even legally challenged,” CEO of 321 Studios, Rob Semaan, said. “In fact, Conexus spoke with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), and they were on our side.”

“So we replaced the original software with a ripper-free version, and resellers put our products back on their shelves. The AFACT then called and told us that this was acceptable.”

Consumers who bought the new version could nonetheless easily obtain a ripper from the Internet, or buy the original version from 321 Studios’ website, he said.

The actions of the AFACT were not totally unexpected. Currently, 321 Studios is involved in five separate legal cases – three in the US, two in the UK – surrounding the DVD X Copy software.

“To be honest, I didn’t really expect it to happen so quickly,” Semaan said. “I thought that, with the market being so small in Australia, both in the digital media and film industries, that it wouldn’t be seen as such an issue.

“But then, of course, I discovered that the AFACT is an affiliate of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), one of the organisations that we are currently battling in court," he said. "This obviously made the AFACT nervous.”

In this new digital age, copyright law can be quite a grey area. The Copyright Act of 1968 states that it does not infringe copyright to make a copy of a cinematograph film or sound recording “for preservation and other purposes” (Section 110B/C). This is the reason why many people want such software.

“It’s not for the big pirates out there,” Semaan said. “I understand the concerns about piracy, and I don’t advocate it.

“This product is for the mums and dads who’ve had to buy three copies of Shrek because the kids keep watching it to death. People want to protect their expensive DVDs and CDs by making back-up copies. Why should that be illegal?”

DVD X Copy is also sold in many other countries, where there has been no complaint made about copyright infringement, he said.

Semaan does not plan to pursue the issue here at present. “It’s still a new market over here,” he said. “I want to be sensitive to that fact. It’s too early to force it just yet.”

The managing director of Conexus, David Murray, and AFACT were both unavailable for comment.

For more on this story, see this week's issue of ARN.