Little did Robert Moore know when he started 321 Studios Inc. in 2001 that he would be a lightning rod for consumers' digital rights. St. Louis-based 321's software allows people to protect their $19.95 investment in prerecorded DVDs by making copies before they're lost or damaged. To Hollywood, the software is no less than a tool for piracy.
That has sparked controversy over just what's permissible under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the 1998 law that's one of Hollywood's strongest weapons to combat piracy and keep control of content. While the DMCA recognizes fair use -- the right to make copies for personal use -- it also makes it a crime to crack codes used by copyright owners. Moore's software does exactly that, bypassing digital locks that are embedded in DVDs.
Hollywood wants the court to shutter Moore's company, but he sued in April, 2002, asking a California federal court to rule that his software does not violate the DMCA, pleading fair use. Critics say the DMCA's broad-brush restrictions harm innovation and consumers. The result of the lawsuit will set out critical new rules for the digital future. By Heather Green