A Norwegian who defeated Hollywood on piracy charges pleaded not
guilty yesterday in a landmark appeal hearing that the movie
industry is anxious to win to protect its lucrative DVD business.
Prosecutors, on behalf of major US film studios, will try to
prove that 20-year-old Jon Johansen broke Norwegian law when he
developed and distributed a computer program that enables
consumers to make personal copies of their DVDs.
The industry hopes to send a message to hackers that it will
fight on any turf those who crack into their copy-protection
systems in a global crackdown on piracy.
The plaintiff, the Motion Picture Association of America --
representing Hollywood studios like Walt Disney, Universal
Studios and Warner Bros -- estimates that piracy costs the US
motion picture industry $3 billion annually in lost sales.
The case in the Oslo Appeals Court is set to end on 12 December
with a verdict expected in early 2004.
Johansen was dubbed "DVD-Jon" by the Internet community after he
devised a computer program -- DeCSS -- in the late 1990s that
enabled consumers to circumvent copy-protection technology
embedded in ordinary DVDs.
Johansen was cleared of piracy charges in an Oslo court in
January after a six-day trial, billed as a fight between a cyber
David and corporate Goliaths.
The court ruled that Johansen could do whatever he wanted to DVDs
he had legally purchased. The court also said prosecutors had
failed to give evidence that Johansen's program had been used by
others to copy and distribute pirated copies.
The prosecution this time intends to establish that Johansen
broke the law when he cracked the copy-protection code on DVDs.
State prosecutor Inger Marie Sunde, who lodged the appeal
objecting to the court's application of the law and the
presentation of evidence, said: "The core of this case is the use
of DeCSS in connection with legally purchased films...not on
Johansen, who developed the program when he was 15, has become a
hero for hackers worldwide who say making software like DeCSS is
an act of intellectual freedom.
Media and software executives argue rampant digital piracy
threatens their livelihoods and creates a need for stronger
technological stopgaps like digital rights management software to
stop unauthorised copies of compact discs and DVDs.
The introduction of such technologies has triggered a showdown
between copyright holders and consumer rights advocates who say
such technologies rob individuals of the ability to make
legitimate backup copies of what they buy.
"If Johansen's acquittal is overturned on appeal, it will become
illegal for Norwegians to bypass DVD region code restrictions or
technical restrictions that prevent fast-forwarding over
advertisements or otherwise circumvent digital controls on their
own property," said executive director Robin Gross of consumer
advocacy group IP Justice in a statement.
There is no specific legislation in Norway to protect digital
content. A European Union copyright directive gives individual
countries the right to choose if they want to recognise legal
protections for new digital rights management technologies.