A US Judge Erased a Chinese Company from the Web Because of Copyright

Judge Vernon Broderick exercised SOPA-like power in taking DVDFab off the internet.

Mar 11 2014, 10:20pm
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Hell hath no fury like a scorned movie industry. On March 4th, Judge Vernon Broderick, US District Court Judge for the Southern District of New York, ordered the seizure of DVD-ripping software company DVDFab's domains and funds. DVDFab, based in China, chose not to respond to the lawsuit filed by AACS (Advanced Access Content System, a digital rights consortium that includes Warner Brothers, Intel, Disney, and others) which factored into Broderick's decision. 

As explained by Torrent Freak, Chinese-based DVDFab sells its Digital Millennium Copyright Act-circumventing software through various domains and affiliates. By purchasing these tools, users can crack many of Hollywood's digital rights management (DRM) protections, from AACS's to Blu-Ray's copyright encryption, which is illegal under US law. To stop DVDFab's software sales, AACS sued the company in the Southern District of New York court, then filed a motion for preliminary junction against the company to stop sales immediately. Adding to its legal woes, DVDFab failed to appear in court for the hearing on the preliminary injunction.

Judge Broderick's court order was far from a routine preliminary injunction. DVDFab is ordered to hand over dozens of domains, merchandise, electronic files, computer files, business records, assets, operations, and various other possessions. Broderick then ordered the company to cease using all domains related to DVDFab. 

DVDFab is also ordered to stop using social media profiles on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, while domain name registries are required to disable DVDFab domains. Any third parties promoting or selling DVDFab products are also bound by the court order. Also, any payment systems, including PayPal, Visa, Mastercard, etc., are prevented from providing services to DVDFab. With one stroke of the pen, Judge Broderick exercised SOPA-like powers, virtually eliminating DVDFab's web presence before the legal process could fully play out. 

This why SOPA was such a concern back in 2011, and why activists still fight its resurrection. Granted, in this case, it's fairly clear that a Chinese company willfully broke US law, then failed to defend itself in court. They were practically begging for a lawsuit, not to mention an injunction against selling their software. Even so, such a blanket erasure from the web is extremely rare, if unprecedented. It demonstrates the power of the copyright lobby, which makes no distinctions between the various ways DRM-decrypting software is used. It's all the same to the movie industry.

Not all DVD ripping is carried out to profit from privacy. Just as with CD ripping, some people simply want the ability to make a copy—whether physical or digital—of the product they own. One of its products, DVDFab SE, allows users to "copy, backup, burn, or clone any DVD the way you want." Say what you will, but copying DVDs to a computer hard drive is much more convenient than lugging a movie collection around in a backpack. 

f some individuals or groups use DVDFab to rip DVDs and sell them for profit, then it would seem domestic and international law enforcement should focus on those pirates instead of a software company, especially one that will be replaced soon enough in true whack-a-mole fashion. 

More worringly, the ruling shows how the defense of copyright now can mean complete erasure from the web. Judge Broderick and, indeed, Hollywood may believe they're doing the right thing. And, of course, there must be respect for Hollywood's desire to protect its copyrighted material against illegal profiteering.

But the future repercussions of this type of legal force could prove problematic. For new companies, such an injunction would likely be a death sentence, stifling innovation in the process. While DVDFab's no-show in court isn't defensible, it's not a stretch to think the same strategy will be used again. 

Read Judge Broderick's full court order here