April 4, 2007 | By Derek Slater

Taking Away Your Personal Use Rights, One Anti-Innovation Lawsuit at a Time

Last week, a California Superior Court judge ruled that Kaleidescape did not violate its contract with the DVD DRM licensing authority by distributing a home media server that rips and plays DVDs. This is an important victory for consumers, but it's also a sad reminder of how your ability to make personal use of digital media is under attack.

As the LA Times' Jon Healey nicely explains, this suit had absolutely nothing to do with stopping "Internet piracy" and everything to do with controlling innovation. In the DVD world, technology creators have to beg permission first from the DVD Copy Control Association, which is essentially controlled by the movie studios. That's why to this day there are still no mass market tools for backing up your DVDs or copying movies to portable devices, for instance.

Kaleidescape is a telling exception. To sell its expensive, niche market, thoroughly locked-down media server, it has had to go through years of costly litigation. DVD CCA still claims that the license forbids this technology and may appeal the decision; in other words, Kaleidescape is still having to defend itself in court in order to deliver its award-winning, innovative new product

Of course, Kaleidescape isn't the only personal use technology under attack in court. Consider the lawsuits against Cablevision's remote DVR service and XM Radio's Inno portable player, which may become "victim[s] of the engineering police," as Public Knowledge's Art Brodsky puts it in an excellent column here. Consumers have long used VCRs and audio tape decks to record off TV and radio, but the entertainment industry wants to decide if and how those abilities come into the digital age. Neither the Cablevision DVR nor XM's Inno is about "Internet piracy"; just like in the DVD context, the entertainment industry is simply aiming to force innovators to beg permission first.

You can help fight back against this assault on your digital media freedoms -- use our Action Center to support the FAIR USE Act and oppose the PERFORM Act, a digital radio restrictions bill.

Updated: We've posted the transcript of the Kaleidescape ruling here.

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