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Jon "DVD Jon" Johansen Acquitted Of Piracy Charges

Jon "DVD Jon" Johansen Acquitted Of Piracy Charges

by , 11:00 AM EST, December 23rd, 2003

Jon Johansen, known for cracking the encryption used in DVDs and releasing the DeCSS source code in 1999 has evaded the long arm of the Motion Pictures Association of America (MPAA) for a second time. Johansen released DeCSS so others like himself could play legally acquired DVDs on unapproved systems such as Linux. However, the MPAA took him to court in Norway for theft.

In January of 2003, the Oslo court decided that Johansen was free to do with his purchased DVDs as he wished. According to an article at the BBC, the MPAA persisted, taking the case to an appeals court, which has agreed with the original court's ruling, throwing out the case. From the BBC:

His software, called DeCSS, could decrypt disks by stripping the Content Scrambling System from DVDs.

The US movie industry had accused DVD Jon of theft. But an Oslo court said in January 2003 that he was free to do what he wanted with DVDs he bought legally.

The appeals court has now agreed with the original ruling, throwing out the case of the MPAA.

In her 30-minute ruling, Judge Wenche Skjeggestad said Mr Johansen could freely copy DVDs he had bought, adding he had not violated Norway's laws protecting intellectual property.

An article at iAfrica.com goes into more detail about the ruling:

Hollywood was keen to win the case, as it struggles to maintain control over the use of its products. It had hoped that a guilty verdict would create a legal precedent in Norway and around the world.

In explaining the reasons for the acquittal, the appeals court said it found the DVD encryption too easy to crack.

US export laws do not allow for encryption codes longer than 40 bits. But according to the court, safe protection cannot be achieved with fewer than 64 bits.

The DVD encryption code had only 16 bits.

Unfortunately, iAfrica goes on to toe the media line when it comes to not understanding the iTMS or its DRM scheme, and the functionality of Jon Johansen's other application, QTFairUse:

DVD Jon has achieved cult-figure status among young websurfers, and last month landed another coup by cracking Apple Computer's online music site iTunes encryption code.

That program, which he posted on an internet site, enables users to circumvent anti-piracy software for Apple's iTunes site and download music bought on iTunes onto their hard drive in its original format.

The user can then do as he wants with the music. The iTunes site normally allows users who buy a song for 99 cents apiece to burn it onto a CD only once, and listen to it on a maximum of three different computers.

Using DVD Jon's program, users can however copy a song and redistribute it as many times as they like.

Johansen has said that, as in the case with DVDs, his aim is to remove the obstacles that still face consumers even after they have made a purchase.

Most of those "facts" are incorrect: The "hack" released by DVD Jon does not involve the download process, did not crack iTunes' encryption code, and the software also does not allow you to do much with the file created from using the software in the first place. As we said in our detailed coverage of this issue, the "hack" is more of a circumvention of the encryption process awaiting someone to make it useful.

In addition, the publication incorrectly states that a user can only burn an iTMS download to a CD one time. While that is true with some of the Windows Media-based services, iTMS files can be burned to CD unlimited times, with any one playlist being limited to 10 burns.

You can read the articles in full at the BBC and iAfrica.

The Mac Observer Spin:

The MPAA has its spin doctors in full effect for this case. Charging him with theft for writing a program that allows him to watch the DVD that he owns? Calling him a serial hacker and a pirate for writing code that makes DVDs more accessible to users? Claiming that his actions hurt "honest consumers"? Madness. Luckily the Norwegian court system has a better head on its shoulders for this case.

This court decision is a victory not only for alternative operating systems such as Linux, but a victory for fair use, ownership, and consumers, despite what the MPAA would like you to believe.

And can we talk about that DVD encryption scheme for a second? 16-bit? Honestly, what is that? In this day and age, relying on 16-bit encryption would be like trying to keep thieves out of your house by Scotch-taping your front door closed. The MPAA is extremely lucky it held out for as long as it did (which wasn't very long).

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