AACS LA Marks Legal Victory vs. SlySoft
By Chris Tribbey
In February the Advanced Access Content System Licensing Administrator (AACS LA) — the industry consortium that licenses copy protection used on Blu-ray Discs — won a legal judgment against a long-time foe.
On Feb. 21, a court in St. John’s, Antigua and Barbuda, found Giancarlo Bettini, owner and founder of DRM-circumvention software company SlySoft, guilty of violating the nation’s copyright law.
According to AACS LA attorney Bruce Turnbull, it was the first time the twin-island Caribbean nation invoked its criminal anti-circumvention statute, 11 years after the law was first established. And the $30,000 fine against Bettini isn’t nearly as important as the precedent the ruling sets, Trunbull said.
“It’s not a huge fine — if he doesn’t pay it, there’s a jail term [one year] that goes with it — but we felt it was a huge win, because we were able to get Antigua to enforce their law,” he said. “They were clearly violating [the] law, and the court ruled accordingly. It gives us a concrete decision to take to others who facilitate SlySoft and their business. We can say to those who do business with them: ‘This is an illegal activity.’”
This wasn’t the first time AACS LA went after Bettini and SlySoft. After years of AACS LA trying to keep up with SlySoft by changing encryption keys (with SlySoft keeping up with every change and releasing new software upgrades), AACS LA finally took the company to court in 2011, using the United Nations’ World Intellectual Property Organization treaty. Nothing came of the first case.
“We discovered SlySoft several years ago and tried to offer various forms of self help, if you will,” Trunbull said. “We didn’t get very far with that.”
In the U.S., the case would have fallen under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, but in Antigua and Barbuda, where SlySoft is based, AACS LA had to use the country’s 2003 anti-circumvention laws, which allow for criminal prosecution, but not a civil complaint.
“It was not available to us as a private party, and wouldn’t be available to the studios who put out their content on Blu-ray,” Turnbull said. “But after doing some work confirming we could bring this case, we went to the authorities in Antigua, and after a little bit of prodding, they opened up an investigation.”
The case lasted a little over six months, and the ruling marks an important anti-piracy decision for Antigua and Barbuda, which has long been at odds with American content owners and the U.S. government. The World Trade Organization in early 2013 gave the twin-island nation permission to violate American copyrights, to make up for the U.S. restricting access to gambling sites hosted by Antigua and Barbuda.
“[SlySoft was] clearly violating Antiguan law, and the court ruled accordingly,” Turnbull said. “They could move operations elsewhere, but their owner has considerable ties to Antigua, with other businesses there. Moving his operations elsewhere would be disruptive.”
This was the second win in a month for AACS, with the SlySoft ruling followed in mid-March by a win for AACS LA in a New York federal court against China-based DVD ripping software company DVDFab. In that case, DVDFab’s bank accounts, social media accounts and online domains were seized.
“We see both the DVDFab.com and SlySoft cases as those that show the importance of anti-circumvention provisions in the law, both here and abroad. It bodes well for our ability to protect content going forward.”