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Norwegian programmer Jon Lech Johansen, AKA "DVD Jon", has moved to San Diego after being hired by tech entrepreneur Michael Robertson to work on a new digital media project called Oboe.

Wired describes the link up as the most portentous since Butch linked up with Sundance and although this one is unlikely to end up in a shot-up with the Bolivian Army we can even now imagine the entertainment industry lining up a legal posse to range against two thorns in its side.

Johansen, a world famous reverse engineer while still in his early teen, was twice acquitted on charges relating to his involvement in creating and distributing a utility (called DeCSS) for playing back DVDs on his own Linux PC. Since then his hacks on copy protection components of Apple's iTunes and Microsoft's Media Player software have made him a hero to programmers and the bete noire of media conglomerates.

Robertson is no stranger to controversy either having founded digital music company MP3.com, sued by recording companies from over its online music lockers service, before taking on Microsoft on the desktop with an open source alternative that was changed its name from Lindows to Linspire last year in settling a protracted legal battle with the software giant. Robertson founded a new firm, MP3tunes.com, last year.

In a posting on his blog, Robertson said he'd hired Johansen to work on Oboe, which is cryptically described as an open system project at MP3tunes.com to "bring digital music into the 21st century". "I knew he'd be a great fit for the team, so I quickly extended him a job offer. It took a few months to process the immigration paperwork, but now he's living in San Diego and working on Oboe," Robertson writes.

Johansen told Wired that after Norway adopted a European Union directive which outlaws the circumvention of copy protection technology in July he is no longer safer from legal assault in his home country than in the US. "In Norway, you have the same laws (as in the United States) now. So it makes no difference if I'm doing my work here or there," he said.

"I plan to continue my research, but I won't be writing any tools (while in the US)," he added. Johansen said that he'd moved to the US because he wanted to work on consumer (as opposed to enterprise) software development projects. "I'm not scared about being arrested now that I'm here. Michael has good lawyers," he said. ®

Related links

Johansen's "So Sue Me" blog

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