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321 Studios Bows Products, Awaits Judge

7 Sep, 2003 By: Holly J. Wagner

321 Studios, the startup software company that became famous (or infamous) when the movie industry threatened to sue it over its DVD copying software, plans to stay in the fight until the end.

“We believe this will only be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court,” president and founder Robert Moore said. “In the end this has got to be about consumer choice.”

Moore didn't wait for the studios to initiate legal action. Instead, he sued the studios, asking the court to declare that his flagship DVD X-Copy product doesn't violate the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) or contribute to consumers infringing on copyrights.

“Congress expected this law to prevent piracy. It should be illegal to circumvent an access control mechanism for infringing uses,” Moore said. “Our product is for backing up your library. We try to educate our customers about infringing uses.”

The whirlwind of litigation that followed resulted in a courtroom brawl that includes 321, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the federal Department of Justice and most of the major studios, all awaiting a decision from a San Francisco judge on a request to end the lawsuit so they can proceed to the next level of appeals.

“What we're doing is what we know how to do, which is to sell our products and support our cause,” Moore said. “We are not about free use, we are about fair use.”

While the company and Hollywood wait, Warner Bros. U.K. sued the company in a court on the other side of the pond at the end of August. Moore is dismayed but plans to fight that case as well.

Since Moore launched the company with his son two years ago, they have sold 1 million copies of their DVD X-Copy and its upgrades, placed the product in most mass merchants, grown the company to 150 employees and, over the Labor Day weekend, hosted about 300 customers at the company's first “Power User” conference.

“There were judges there, there were police officers there. There was a lot of love in the room. We were fueled again to continue fighting,” Moore said. “People came from overseas. Our customers are a bunch of loyalists. It's almost like a cult following; they believe in what we are doing.”

Much of the conference, including a presentation by EFF attorney Fred von Lohmann, focused on the legal issues the company is facing.

Also part of the daylong event were demonstrations of the new products launched the following week.

Along with the platinum upgrade for DVD X-Copy (“Eventually, it will let parents remove offensive language or offensive scenes from their backups,” Moore said), the company launched a DVD repair product called DVD X-Rescue, a photo DVD authoring product called DVD X-Show, the DVD X-Maker for authoring DVDs using homemade videos, and DVD X-Point for transferring PowerPoint presentations to DVD so they will play in any standard DVD player.

Regardless of what decision comes out of the San Francisco court, 321 Studios is here to stay, Moore said.

“Beyond the cause of fair use, I want to help consumers get more of what they want from technology. I want to provide for the life cycle of the product,” he said. “When I was a kid my father told me: ‘You probably won't choose your destiny, it will choose you.' ”

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