Norway indicts teenager for breaking DVD law

Teenage programmer Jon Johansen has been indicted by the Norwegian Economic Crime Unit for crimes related to DVD descrambling...

Teenage programmer Jon Johansen has been indicted by the Norwegian Economic Crime Unit for crimes related to DVD descrambling software that he created.

Johansen created the De Contents Scramble System (DeCSS) program in 1999, when he was 15, so that he could view his DVDs on a Linux machine. DeCSS defeats the copyright protection system used by the entertainment industry to protect films distributed on DVDs.

Johansen created and published DeCSS as part of an open source development project to build Linux DVD players. He also put the software on equipment owned by his father, Per Johansen.

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) asked Norwegian authorities to launch a criminal investigation into both Jon and Per Johansen.

The Norwegian Economic Crime Unit has charged Jon Johansen with violating section 145 (2) of Norwegian law, which outlaws breaking into another person's locked property to gain access to data that one does not have a right to access.

The civil liberties group, Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is publicising the case.

"Hollywood is a very powerful force and when they put pressure on a country like Norway it is felt," said Robin Gross, EFF's intellectual property lawyer. "It is no surprise that they bowed to the pressure."

The EFF asserted that Johansen should not have been prosecuted for breaking into his own property. The US-based organisation added that the law was previously used only to prosecute individuals who violate someone else's secured system.

Johansen could face two years in prison if convicted, the EFF said.

Johansen's indictment is just the latest in a string of high-profile cases that are testing the boundaries of copyright protection and free speech and fair use rights.

In fact, the MPAA's CSS licensing entity, DVD CCA, has already sued Johansen for publishing DeCSS, claiming that he violated a trade secret under the Uniform Trade Secrets Act. A California appeals court, however, ruled that DeCSS could not be barred from publication,.

Gross believes that the DVD CCA put pressure on the Norwegian authorities to indict Johansen after losing the California case and in the face of the summary judgement.

"The MPAA is working very hard throughout the world to have some stringent intellectual laws passed, " said Gross. "The irony is, they are prosecuting their own fans."

The MPAA has previously sued hacker magazine 2600: The Hacker Quarterly for linking to DeCSS via its Web site. In November 2001, a New York federal appeals court upheld a ruling prohibited the publishing the code, saying that it violated the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

Johansen provided testimony in the 2600 magazine case, explaining how he created the DeCSS program in conjunction with two other people.

It remains to be seen how successful the Norwegian authorities will be at prosecuting the teenager. Gross said protests are planned in Norway, and she expects Johansen's US supporters will also organise rallies.

"We believe this case will be won in court of public opinion," Gross said.

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