Young DeCSS developer rudely arrested

MPAA overkill crosses the Atlantic

Norwegian police, leaping to action at the bidding of American commercial powers, raided the home of 16-year-old DeCSS developer Jon Johansen on Tuesday, arresting the lad and confiscating his computers for evidence. Following several hours of questioning, young Johansen was charged with gaining unauthorised access to data and copyright infringement, serious allegations for which he could serve time in gaol if convicted. The recent release of DeCSS, a program which cracks certain security features of DVDs, has terrified the entertainment industry, represented by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), and inspiring it to pursue numerous legal remedies with an almost bloodthirsty enthusiasm. Johansen maintains that the purpose of DeCSS is merely to make DVD media viewable to Linux users. The entertainment industry sees it as means of making illegal copies of DVD media and distributing them easily via the Internet. The core issue to be decided in court is whether DeCSS poses a significant threat to copyrights. Opinions vary, but The Register received several comments from vigilant readers on a previous story where we observed that DeCSS can be used to crack DVD copyright protection, and so enable users to save DVD content to a hard disk for subsequent distribution via Internet download. We were more than once referred to a "Journalist's Fact Sheet" at, which notes that "the [DVD] encryption only hinders playback. It is possible to (illegally) copy a DVD disk without decrypting anything! You can do this because the decryption is done at play time and doesn't have anything to do with copying." Several of our readers mistook this assertion for evidence that DeCSS can't be used to make illegal, decrypted copies of DVD disks. Not quite right: the DVD Content Scrambling System (CSS) was cracked in the course of rendering the format available to 'unauthorised' media viewers such as one might use with Linux, and this means that DeCSS can in fact be abused as the MPAA fears. This is not to say that Johansen's intention in developing DeCSS is other than he claims, or to say that DeCSS will necessarily be abused, but clearly it can be (and, let's be real here, undoubtedly will be). It's the CSS decryption, not the fact that a Linux viewer can be enabled, that terrifies the MPAA. Of course one could make copies a still-encrypted DVD without DeCSS, but that's hardly what's got the MPAA in hysterics. The fear is that decrypted DVD content will find itself propagating wildly and inexpensively via Internet download throughout Russia, China, South Korea and Taiwan, where cheap, pirated copies of Western movies and music outnumber legal copies by at least a hundred to one. Now add a freeware 'unauthorised' viewer, and voila! pirate DVDs will work with your buggy, bootleg copy of Windows in Chinese too. With that in mind, we must allow that the MPAA has ample reason for concern, even if its behaviour has been irredeemably pissy and embarrassingly un-manly. ®

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