As Unspun spins down in its final week, we glance at three court proceedings across the globe that could materially affect what is left of the freewheelin' Internet of old -- and by "old" we mean that distant era in the previous century, say three years ago.
First to Norway, where the trial of the (now) 19-year-old hero/villain of the DeCSS affair started yesterday. Jon Johansen, which AftenPosten Norway's English edition informed us is known to all as "DVD Jon," wrote and released a little bundle of software that decodes the Content Scrambling System. CSS is the movie studios' attempt, pitifully weak in cryptanalysis terms, to protect the content of DVDs from being played in the "wrong" country or in an unauthorized player -- such as Johansen's Linux computer. Johansen is charged with a "data break-in" under Norwegian law, Reuters reported. The AP added that prosecutors decided against bringing a copyright case, although the action stemmed from a complaint the Motion Picture Association of America filed in Norway after DeCSS was posted to the Net. In effect, AftenPosten's scribe wrote, prosecutors have charged Johansen with breaking into a product he had legally bought and owned. The experts AftenPosten quoted agree that the case against DVD Jon seems weak.
Next stop: California. That state's Supreme Court ruled a few weeks back that Texas programmer Mathew Pavlovich, who posted Johansen's DeCSS program to the Net, could not be hauled to California to answer for that act. Reports from InternetNews and IDG both quoted a lawyer for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which helped to defend Pavlovich, sounding upbeat about the implications for jurisdiction in Net cases: "This decision clearly puts to rest the notion that you can drag someone into California court simply because he should have known that a Web publication could harm Hollywood."
And finally to Australia, where that nation's highest court has just thrown back up into the air what the California court had so neatly finished laying out. The justices Down Under unanimously agreed with two lower antipodean courts that Dow Jones must answer a defamation charge in the Australian state of Victoria, although the offending article had been posted to servers in New Jersey. The Wall Street Journal, a Dow Jones property, went high with the story, but it was not prominent in the other big eastern outlets. The Journal quoted the Australian justices' dismissal of Dow Jones's argument that it would be forced to check laws "from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe": "The specter which Dow Jones sought to conjure up ... is seen to be unreal ... identifying the person about whom material is to be published will readily identify the defamation law to which the person may resort." Nonetheless, the BBC quoted a defamation lawyer's opinion that the ruling, the first from any nation's highest court, "would have a chilling effect because publishers would face potential liability everywhere the Web reaches." - Keith Dawson
'DVD Jon' set for his day in court
Landmark DVD piracy trial begins (Reuters)
Norwegian teen pleads innocent in DVD-copy protection trial (AP)
Johansen Trial Underway
DVD De-scrambling Poster Avoids Liability in Calif.
DeCSS Defendant Won't Have to Mosey West
Dow Jones Must Defend Action On Web Defamation in Australia
Australia makes landmark net ruling
Australian court to hear Net case (Reuters)