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2002-08-17 -- I've received my first cease and desist letter! It wasn't addressed to me directly, so it took some effort to get a copy of it, but now that I have it I can post it on the web and reply to the letter.

I was surprised they bothered, since all the files about DeCSS on my site were two years old. Now I'll actually make a point of updating them some time soon. I guess this isn't a forgotten corner of the web after all.

The letter mentions "Digital Millennium Copyright Act, Title 17 United States Code Section 1201(a)(2)(3).", which states

The MPAA has made a great deal of noise about 'piracy', by which they generally seem to mean the illegal wholesale copying of intellectual property for sale to others. That's all well and good, and I agree that such actions are wrong. The problem, as I see it, is that they also appear to label the legitimate use of DVDs (purchasing them, then viewing the contents) as improper if that legitimate use is done using an 'unauthorized' DVD player.

I'm certain the MPAA has already been told about the purpose of DeCSS, but just to be clear, the purpose of DeCSS is to enable the use of DVDs on Linux. This was a natural outgrowth of the fact that the recording industry ignored the existance of Linux users and failed to provide a solution for these users. Linux users were left to find their own solution or do without DVDs. I've elected to avoid all use of DVDs even now that Linux solutions are available, and to encourage others to do so because the industry has been so hostile, but I've also elected to help host files related to the effort to get DVDs working under Linux, with the hope that things would get better in the future. This letter shows that the industry is still hostile to their own potential customers, and they still don't understand the difference between copying a DVD (encrypted bits and all) and interpreting the encrypted bits.

  1. Their claim to have made a good faith effort seems particularly hollow given the similarity to another letter in which they claim that DeCSS is a motion picture, and claim the same good faith effort.
  2. I don't think that the DMCA applies to my actions.
  3. I'm not in the jurisdiction of the second circuit.
  4. The idea of prohibiting content "through a series of links" is completely absurd, and suggests that the judge was either incompetent or bribed, perhaps both.
  5. To the extent that the DMCA outlaw reverse engineering, it is bad law, and it will eventually be overturned or repealed.
  6. To the extent that the DMCA outlaws rights covered by fair use, or restricts the exercise of those rights, it is bad law, and it will eventually be overturned or repealed.
  7. I am exercising my first ammendment rights to speech, and providing commentary on the actions of the MPAA, the effects of the DMCA, and the technical details relating to playing a DVD on arbitrary hardware, as allowed by fair use rights.
  8. My purpose in posting whatever links I've posted is to facilitate dicussion and research with the goal of making available information relating to the use of DVDs on arbitrary hardware, especially hardware running Linux.
  9. I have no financial gain from running this domain or hosting any page or pages here. This domain is not a source of revenue or promotion. Rather, it is a financial burden I only keep around for the benefit of having a stable email address and as a convenience so I don't have to remember an IP address.

Anyway, the letter had some effect, but it was mostly incidental, it would have happened anyway, and it was certainly not the effect the MPAA desired.

I wound up moving my domain (which I'd been planning to do anyway) as a result, but that was more the result of drawing attention to the fact that I was still hosting my domain at UNM and it was time to move somewhere else, since I'd stopped working there a while ago.

Instead of sending the letter to the owner of the domain (that would be me) the letter was sent to UNM, which was responsible for the IP address where the site was hosted.

The letter specified the root URL of my entire domain instead of a particular page. Under the logic of linking "through a series of links" this would make sense, but they might as well talk to thier own clients at that point.

I'm guessing the page they took issue with was somewhere under http://www.pungent.org/DVD/ but I cannot know because they didn't specify. Instead they only mentioned http://www.pungent.org/ and they ask UNM to "Disable access to this site", "Remove this site from your server" and "Take appropriate action against the account holder under your Abuse Policy/Terms of Service Agreement." as if UNM could arbitrarily block access to a domain and delete files because the MPAA told them to without themselves facing potential liability.

This letter drew official attention to the fact that my domain was still hosted at UNM (on a machine I used to administer and still provide occasional advice regarding) even though I no longer work there. Of course, they ask me to move my domain. Immediately.

The people at UNM handled this quite professionally, in effect telling me "Get out, not because of the letter but because you should have already left on your own and you aren't really a student or employee any more", which was true. They even showed me a draft of the response they planned to send to the MPAA:

1) We are not in the second circuit.

2) I have asked repeatedly that you report these complaints to the appropriate party and you have failed even to give the courtesy of a response.

3) You have not, as is required by DMCA, enumerated what it is you suspect in good faith is on said server. I was not able to find anything on that server resembling copyright circumvention software.

Until such time as you comply with DMCA, we will be unable to respond appropriately.

I'd been meaning to move my domain anyway, and I'd been procrastinating, so this really just forced me to get around to it right away. I've got no complaint about the way UNM handled this.

Anyway, I moved my domain, and I'm planning to contact the MPAA to make sure they know how to contact me, so they don't need to harass the nice folks at Spinn.net they way the harassed the nice folks at UNM.

I filled out the forms at Chilling Effects, submitting a copy of the cease and desist letter.

I sent a response to MPAA. Now to wait and see if they respond. Who knows, maybe they will stop annoying people.

In February 2015 it came to my attention that this episode had been included in A Decade of the DMCA (ISBN 978-0557096541) which was published in 2009 by Marcia K. Wilbur. I found this quite ammusing, and I hope my story has been helpful to someone. It should come as no surprise that I still haven't heard back from the MPAA.

webmast3r@pungent.org.   -   owen@pungent.org.   -   Last modified: 2015-02-07