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Sixth DVD IC manufacturer hit with MPAA injunction

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Sixth DVD IC manufacturer hit with MPAA injunction
Los Angeles (CA) – The legal victories for the Motion Picture Association of America continued yesterday, as it announced its member companies have won another injunction against a DVD chip manufacturer for not having implemented the CSS copy protection scheme required by DVD licenses. Sunplus, the world’s #2 manufacturer of ICs for DVD players and other CE devices, was slapped with an injunction, becoming no less than the sixth such company to receive such an injunction

The injunction brings to an end another in a string of lawsuits filed by the MPAA against Taiwanese DVD integrated circuit manufacturers. Last December, the MPAA filed lawsuits against Sunplus and competitor Cheertek for allegedly shipping ICs to player and computer manufacturers that circumvented portions of the Content Scramble System (CSS). Practically since its inception, the copy protection measure has proven somewhat less than adequate, as DVD ripping software that descrambles CSS content has been available since late 1999.

But although MPAA press releases have trumpeted the Association’s anti-piracy efforts alongside news of its legal proceedings, what has not been made clear to date is whether the alleged circumvention measures produced by Sunplus and others were specifically designed to enable DVD ripping. The question is especially relevant since the products allegedly including Sunplus’ “inadequate” devices were entry-level DVD players, not recorders. In addition to scrambling content to thwart surreptitious recording, CSS also manages two other features in DVD players which have been referred to as “security measures:” region coding, which prevents a DVD coded for the North American market from being viewed in a player sold for the Taiwan market, and vice versa; and message non-skipping, which was originally intended to make certain the FBI anti-piracy message appeared on-screen for the requisite 10 seconds, but which has recently been leveraged to ensure other “public service messages” – including some from the MPAA itself – don’t get skipped over by viewers.

The Association sued the IC manufacturers, not their DVD player customers, according to the MPAA, because the latter group were not properly licensed CSS manufacturers themselves, and thus were under no obligation to abide by CSS’ provisions. So another possibility exists that Sunplus and others supplied ICs with the full CSS measures, while leaving the door open for those who purchase them to circumvent those measures at their will. Whether IC manufacturers implemented these circumvention features intentionally or not, would be unclear; nonetheless, it does appear that US court judgments favor the MPAA’s position.

Cheertek settled its lawsuit with the MPAA last month, avoiding a court injunction. Mediatek, the world’s #1 producer of ICs for DVD players, settled its own lawsuit with the MPAA – which made identical allegations against Mediatek – in May 2005.