Court: DVD Copy Protection Violated Privacy

A French court has ordered DVD vendors to pull copies of the David Lynch film "Mulholland Drive" (search) off store shelves in France as part of an unprecedented ruling against copy protection techniques.

The appeals court ruled that copy prevention software (search) on the DVD violated privacy rights in the case of one consumer who had tried to transfer the film onto a video cassette for personal use.

The ruling could be a major setback for the DVD (search) industry, which places lock software on disks as part of its battle against illegal copying — cited for millions of dollars in losses each year.

"This ruling means that 80 percent of DVDs now on the French market are equipped with illegal mechanisms," said Julien Dourgnon, spokesman for consumer advocacy group UFC-Que Choisir (search), which brought the case.

"Stores will probably not have to send back products already in stock," Dourgnon said Tuesday. "But in the future, no DVD or CD that has the device can be sold."

France, along with other EU countries including Germany and Spain, has laws guaranteeing the right of consumers to copy recordings they have purchased for private use.

Lionel Thoumyre, a lawyer for artists' rights group Spedidam (search), said the ruling sets a new precedent in the European Union (search), where intellectual property laws are nearly identical among member states.

"This is brand new," he said. "I think this is the first judgment in Europe going in this direction."

The consumer group filed the suit on behalf of a man who had wanted to copy the DVD that he had bought onto a videocassette so he could show the film at his mother's home.

The ruling, issued Friday, overturned a lower court's decision in favor of the defendants — the co-producers Alain Sarde Films and Studio Canal and distributor Universal. The suit was filed in 2003.

The plaintiffs were also found guilty of violating French consumer protection laws, which state that a vendor must notify consumers of a product's essential characteristics.

In this case, the letters "CP" or "copying prohibited" appeared in small print on the DVD cover, a warning that the court found insufficient.