Finnish Court Says DRM Has to be Truly Effective to Warrant Legal Protection

Although it is a lower-level court, a recent ruling by the Helsinki District Court has raised questions about whether DRM systems that can be cracked by easily available software warrant protection under Finnish and European Union copyright laws.

Here’s a excerpt from Mikko Välimäki’s analysis, "Keep on Hacking: A Finnish Court Says Technological Measures Are No Longer ‘Effective’ When Circumventing Applications Are Widely Available on the Internet":

In an unanimous decision given May 25, 2007, Helsinki District Court ruled that Content Scrambling System (CSS) used in DVD movies is "ineffective." The decision is probably the first in Europe to interpret new copyright law amendments that ban the circumvention of "effective technological measures." The legislation is based on EU Copyright Directive from 2001. According to both the Finnish copyright law and the underlying directive, only such protection measure is effective, "which achieves the protection objective." . . .

The background of the Finnish CSS case was that after the national copyright law amendment was accepted in late 2005, a group of Finnish computer hobbyists and activists opened a website where they posted information on how to circumvent CSS. They appeared in a police station and claimed to have potentially infringed copyright law. Most of the activists thought that either the police does not investigate the case in the first place or the prosecutor drops it if it goes any further.

To the surprise of many, the case ended in the Helsinki District Court. Defendants were Mikko Rauhala who opened the website, and a poster who published an own implementation of source code circumventing CSS. They were prosecuted for illegally manufacturing and distributing a circumventing product and providing a service to circumvent an effective technological measure. . . .

The decisive part of the process was the hearing of two technical expert witnesses. One was invited by the prosecutor and another was invited by the defense. Asked about the effectivity of CSS, they both held it ineffective from the perspectives of technical experts as well as average consumers. The court relied on the testimonies of the witnesses and concluded: ". . . since a Norwegian hacker succeeded in circumventing CSS protection used in DVDs in 1999, end-users have been able to get with easy tens of similar circumventing software from the Internet even free of charge. Some operating systems come with this kind of software pre-installed. . . . CSS protection can no longer be held ‘effective’ as defined in law. . . ."

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