Legal DVD Playback Coming to Linux?
In a country where the legal system is based on precedents, a judge's recent decision just may make the use of Linux a whole lot easier.
From nearly the beginnings of entertainment DVDs, Linux users in certain countries either had to break the law to watch their legally obtained media on their computer, boot a Windows system, or not use them. Many chose to break the law and install decryption software. Perhaps those days are over.
Appeal Judge Garcia found that General Electric did not break the Digital Millennium Copyright Act by merely unlocking MGE UPS Systems' protection software in order to repair faulty power supplies. The judge wrote that the DMCA protects against infringement, not viewing or using. While these aren't DVDs with copyrighted movies or music, it still sets a precedent for legal fair use of DMCA protected products.
A test case would be very interesting, but now Linux users at least have a legal strategy if they are caught watching a legally purchased DVD. Copying and uploading for others to share is still quite illegal, but Linux users have always been angered by the the roadblocks keeping them from watching their own movies or listening to their own music. It's quite possible that this decision has begun to tear down that obstacle.
Unfortunately, at the same time Judge Garcia's decision was being read, the US Copyright Office weighed in on exemptions to the DMCA. On the subject of streaming and DVD content on Linux, it held up its earlier opinion that in the absence of a real problem Linux users should just get an alternative platform. In other words, there aren't enough Linux users to warrant any change in policy and the few there are should just buy a Windows PC.
The next question is will Linux developers wish to test the waters by including libdvdcss in their distributions? While the libdvdcss available for Linux systems has never been expressly challenged, its DeCSS-like decryption prevents many distributions from including it for fear of legal issues. One would hope that Garcia's decision will alleviate those fears, but given the Copyright Office's lack of exemption for Linux, it certainly looks like users will have to continue to install the needed decryption software themselves.
Susan Linton is a Linux writer and the owner of tuxmachines.org.