Judge: DMCA allows DVD Ripping

UCLA has now won their case against Ambrose Video Publishing and the Association for Information Media and Equipment (AIME). Both groups filed a lawsuit in December 2010. They alleged that UCLA violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) by purchasing and using streaming software that included a DVD-ripping function. UCLA proceeded to stream DVDs that it had purchased to students and staff around January 2006, according to Ars Technica.

Ambrose and AIME argued that UCLA violated the DMCA's anti-circumvention provisions by ripping copy-protected DVDs sold by Ambrose and other copyright holders. The groups argued that the DVDs were sold under a licensing agreement that prohibited rebroadcast and public display. Thus, UCLA was violating the DMCA by engaging in the activity.

UCLA stated that "fair use" gives educators broad latitude to publicly perform copyrighted works as part of instructional activities. The school noted that Ambrose's catalog stated that "all purchases by schools and libraries include public performance rights." The school also said that because the school legally owned the DVDs, it had a right to access the DVDs.

Judge Consuelo B. Marshall has now agreed with the UCLA. He noted that the plaintiffs had said that UCLA had a right to show the DVDs in their classrooms. He ruled that the streaming software was functionally equivalent. The judge stated the following in regards to the streaming service:

The type of access that students and/or faculty may have, whether overseas or at a coffee shop, does not take the viewing of the DVD out of the educational context.

The judge also stated that purchasing DVD-ripping software did not constitute "trafficking" in the software, as the plantiffs had claimed. If the rulings are upheld, this would have great implications for the DMCA. Digital Rights Management (DRM) is used to prevent even legal purchasers of the work from making copies. If lawful ownership of a DVD precludes unlawful circumvention, this would render a huge provision of the DMCA useless. It would also legalize the use of DVD-ripping tools.

In regards to the decision, Scott Waugh, UCLA executive vice chancellor and provost, stated the following:

UCLA is pleased that the court dismissed the plaintiffs' lawsuit challenging UCLA's practice of streaming previously purchased video content for educational purposes. The court ruling acknowledges what UCLA has long believed, that streaming licensed DVDs related to coursework to UCLA students over UCLA's secure network is an appropriate educational use.

UCLA has an uphill fight, however, as the decision is likely to be appealed to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

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