DVD Dispute Targets Norwegian Teen

FRAMINGHAM (01/26/2000) - A 16-year-old Norwegian who helped develop software aimed at making unauthorized copies of digital video discs (DVD) had his computer equipment seized Monday by law enforcement officials who later reportedly interrogated him for seven hours.

The raid follows three related U.S. lawsuits filed by the motion picture industry against software developers, journalists and an Internet service provider, creating a public debate over laws governing copyright and trade secrets.

Jon Johansen, the teen, posted a message on the Slashdot.org Web site Monday stating that Norway's National Authority for Investigation and Prosecution of Economic and Environmental Crime raided his house and seized two computers and his cellular phone.

"Someone's definitely going to pay for this," wrote Johansen, who lives in Steinsholt, Norway. "Did someone whisper countersuit?"

Johansen is the co-founder of a group called Masters of Reverse Engineering, whose members developed a software program, called DeCSS, that's designed to break the DVD encoding system. He was among the first to post DeCSS, which allows users to view DVDs on computers that don't use Windows or Macintosh operating systems.

Johansen says the encryption codes on DVDs don't provide copy protection; they simply control playback.

But according to Norwegian newspapers, Norwegian law firm Simonsen Museuus has charged Johansen with breaking a security system, while both he and his father, Per Johansen, have been charged with copyright infringement. His father was indicted because he owns the domain where his son's home page is located.

The charges carry fines and prison terms of up to two years.

The lawsuits involving the U.S. movie industry were filed on behalf of the Los Angeles-based Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), which represents the interests of the seven largest American movie makers, including Walt Disney, Sony Pictures, MGM, Paramount Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Universal Studio and Warner Bros.

The MPAA suit cites Norwegian Criminal Code Section 145(2), a provision that makes it illegal to "break a security arrangement" to access data. It's unclear whether the provision can be applied to a situation where someone breaks a security system to access material on a device that person owns.

The second charge of contributory copyright infringement, as likely to be argued in this case, also hasn't been heard before the Norwegian courts.

The law firm representing the U.S. motion picture industry in these actions also represents the interests of the DVD Copy Control Association (DVD-CCA), which licenses DVD players.

"The court here said that DeCSS provides the keys to theft. . . That is wrong, and we would hope that people around the world would recognize that it is wrong," said Mark Litvack, worldwide legal director at the MPAA.

"As to other locales, I would hope that people would abide by law and to the extent that they challenge us, we will look at every instance and determine what to do -- we have numerous weapons available to us," he added.

The motion picture industry is using this case "as their test for novel legal theories, putting pressure on prosecutors to arrest this kid," countered Robin Gross of the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which is arranging for Johansen's defense. "This is a completely unprecedented interpretation in a test case against a guy who is not in a position to defend himself. If the industry can get a precedent here, they can use it to squelch speech in other countries."

DeCSS has been mirrored on Web sites around the world. But the charges against Johansen stem from two U.S. court cases that attempt to stop distribution of the software. The DVD-CCA filed a lawsuit in December against 21 named and 72 unnamed software developers and Web site operators based on the notion that the distribution of DeCSS violates trade secrets.

Last Friday, Santa Clara, Calif., Superior Court Judge William J. Elfving issued a preliminary injunction ordering the 21 defendants to stop posting DeCSS. The EFF is sponsoring the legal defense of Andrew Bunner, a defendant in the case.

The EFF is also supporting the defense of three people in a New York federal case filed by the MPAA that maintains that DeCSS violates the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). In the Southern District of New York, Federal Judge Lewis Kaplan granted a preliminary injunction last week that bars defendants in the case from posting DeCSS (see story).

"The evidence in this case shows that there is nothing in the DeCSS utility or design or development other than to provide decryption or storage of copyrighted DVDs," said Litvack.

But proponents of open-source software charge that if Kaplan's reading of the DMCA holds, then it will become illegal to build open-source products that can interoperate with or compete with proprietary systems that display copyrighted content. The EFF argues that if the New York ruling is upheld, it will impede fair use rights, which give people the right to make copies for personal use without the author's permission.

"The motion picture industry is using its substantial resources to intimidate the technical community into surrendering rights of free expression and fair use of information," said Tara Lemmey, executive director of the EFF.

"These actions are a wake-up call for the technical community. The process of reverse-engineering and public posting and commenting of code that the MPAA is attempting to suppress is fundamental to the development of commercial and open-source software."

The actions being brought by the motion picture industry have also attracted the attention of the Global Internet Liberty Campaign (GILC), a coalition of more than 50 international civil liberties and human rights groups.

"We believe that intellectual property owners should not be allowed to expand their property rights at the expense of free speech, legal reverse-engineering of software programs for interoperability reasons and discussions of technical and scientific issues on the Internet," wrote GILC members in a statement released last week. GILC members argue that the DVD-CCA's lawsuit is in direct conflict with U.N. human rights accords and the first amendment of the U.S.

Constitution.

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