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Judge likely to help computer code gain First Amendment protection

SHARE Judge likely to help computer code gain First Amendment protection

NEW YORK (AP) — A Manhattan judge indicated Tuesday he was likely to declare what is seemingly banal computer code as a form of expressive content, a distinction that may help bring it First Amendment protection.

But if U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan rules the way he appeared to be leaning in court, it's likely to create some ripples in the DVD industry. The computer code the judge may opt to protect would make it possible for anyone to copy DVDs.

Kaplan heard the conclusion of testimony Tuesday in a case brought by the motion picture industry to try to stop DVDs from being copied on computers. He will decide the case without a jury after lawyers submit papers in August.

The judge must decide in the civil case whether eight major movie studios can stop Eric Corley from making software available online or posting links to it so that people can copy films that are in DVD format.

Corley posted the software on his Web site, 2600.com, and in his print publication, "2600: The Hacker Quarterly."

The judge told lawyers to submit papers by Aug. 8 to show their views of the First Amendment's role in the case, including what he should do about an injunction he issued in January against Corley if "I conclude that this horse is out of the barn already."

Testimony in the case showed that the computer program Corley posted on his Web site was available in numerous other locations on the Internet and had even been printed on a T-shirt.

The judge said he was impressed by David Touretzky, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, who testified that the case raises "very serious concerns about the future of computer science and my ability to function as a computer scientist."

"I really find what Professor Touretzky had to say today extremely persuasive and educational about computer code," the judge said.

Touretzky pleaded with the judge to rule in favor of Corley, saying to rule otherwise "would have a chilling effect on my ability as a computer scientist to express myself."

He noted that free speech rights allow the publishing of a formula for LSD even though it is illegal to possess LSD — and the publishing of a schematic for a timing device for a bomb.

Touretzky said he expresses himself through computer language.

"I've been programming computers since I was 12 years old, and I'm very concerned when events take place that threaten my ability to express myself," he said.