January 25, 2000 5:00 PM PST

Teen charged in connection with DVD cracking tool

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Movie trade group tries to block DVD cracking tool

November 18, 1999
Norwegian police questioned and charged a 16-year-old student who sent the U.S. movie industry into a frenzy when he helped create a program that breaks the encryption on DVDs that spread like wildfire on the Net.

In an interview today, Jon Johansen said that police raided his house yesterday to collect evidence stemming from allegations that he violated trade secrets to create a program called DeCSS, which cracks the security code in the DVD Content Scrambling System. That, in turn, allows people to view digital movies through unauthorized players, such as computers running the Linux operating system.

Police seized several computers, a Nokia cellular phone and some CDs and then charged Johansen with breaking security to gain unauthorized access to data or software. He and his father, whose company's Web site was used to post the program, also were charged with copyright infringement.

The son and father face two to three years in prison and fines if convicted.

Johansen said that several people developed the program to allow users to play DVDs on various PCs. The effort is described on OpenDVD.org.

"Our goal was to make it possible to watch DVDs under the Linux operating system," Johansen wrote in an email.

In the wake of the release of DeCSS, the film industry has vigorously tried to stamp out the program. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) filed a lawsuit in New York against individuals who allegedly posted the program on their Web sites; the organization also is a founder of the DVD Copy Control Association, which filed a similar lawsuit in California.

The judges in both cases have issued preliminary injunctions prohibiting the defendants from posting the code through the duration of the trials.

But 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."

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is defending the parties in both cases, argues that people have a right to discuss the "the technical insecurity of DVD" and demonstrate their points through reverse engineering.

The DVD association was formed in December of last year by companies that also are members of the MPAA, the Business Software Alliance and the Electronic Industries Alliance to license out the DVD Content Scrambling System.

 

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