David and Goliath: The Sequel

SAN FRANCISCO (01/27/2000) - Though David won one in the etoy battle, Goliath came out ahead in a separate conflict between businessmen and old-school geeks, as a 16-year-old hacker was arrested in Norway. Teenager Jon Johansen was one of the programmers behind DeCSS, a program that breaks through the encryption code of DVDs - much to the chagrin of the Motion Picture Association of America. Police seized several computers, a Nokia cellular phone and some CDs from Johansen's home, and, according to Wired News writer Lynn Burke, questioned Johansen for nearly seven hours. CNET's Courtney Macavinta reported that Johansen was charged with breaking security to gain unauthorized access to data or software, and he and his father, on whose homepage the program was posted, were charged with copyright infringement. Both face two to three years in prison if convicted, Macavinta wrote.

The MPAA sees Johansen's code as nothing but a tool for piracy. CNET's Courtney Macavinta wrote, "In the wake of the release of DeCSS, the film industry has vehemently tried to stamp out the program." The MPAA filed a lawsuit in New York against people who posted the code on their Web sites, Macavinta wrote, and founded a group called the DVD Copy Control Association, which filed a similar suit in California. Macavinta reported that the judges in both cases have issued preliminary injunctions prohibiting the defendants from posting the code while the trial proceeds.

Johansen contends that his goal with DeCSS was simply to make DVDs watchable on computers running the Linux operating system - so he should quickly become a cause celebre within the open-source movement. As Macavinta wrote, "Johansen argues that the MPAA has misled the public into believing that his program allows people to more easily copy DVDs. 'The (motion picture industry) is claiming that their encryption was copy protection,' he said. 'The encryption is in fact only playback protection, which gives the movie industry a monopoly on who gets to make DVD players.'" Does this mean DVD war? On the geek side, at least the troops are already mobilized.

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