The cybertrial of the century begins on Monday, according to the defendants in a case that pits nine Hollywood studios against Eric Corley, a.k.a. Emmanuel Goldstein, publisher of the small hacker 'zine known as 2600.
17 July 2000 - The members of the Motion Picture Association of America are suing Corley over links on his Web site, 2600.org, that refer browsers to the source code of a computer program that can be used to bypass the encryption on DVD disks. Corley stresses that the links are the result of good journalism; the studios contend that he is aiding pirates.
The outcome could affect every Web site on the Internet. If the MPAA succeed in their law suit, the ability of Web sites to link to other information -- arguably the most valuable feature of the Web -- could be curtailed, said Martin Garbus, lead attorney for Corley.
"For the first time, the copyright holders have attempted to put restrictions on first amendment rights," he said, during a panel discussion at H2K, the Hacking on Planet Earth 2000 conference, in New York on Friday.
Corley refuted any allegations that he aided DVD pirates by putting the links on the 2600 site. "When we put the code up on our Web site, we didn't do it to circumvent copyright, but to convey information to people," he said to almost 1,000 "hackers" who collected at the Hotel Pennsylvania for the conference.
Silencing an alternative voice?
Corley and 2600 -- which runs the HOPE 2000 conference -- have long been an alternative voice, perhaps the most legitimate of the hacker 'zines in the United States. The magazine and its Web site have published and posted information about phone phreaking, hacking and any other cool technology for years.
"We always knew that we could get sued by a company, but we never knew that it would be so many," said Corley, recognizing that his publication has walked a fine line between what's legal and what's not. "It's a massive lawsuit and they own (much) of the media. CNN is owned by Time Warner and they are suing us. ABC is owned by Disney and they are suing us." (ZDNet is not affiliated with any of the companies that are suing Corley.)
It's not a case that Corley intends to run from, either. "I find the worst type of censorship to be self censorship," he said. "To say, if we do (link), they might sue us and so, not link at all is the worst form of censorship. We are not going to do that."
While the MPAA's assertions that the case pits legitimate business against pirates and hackers may seem to gain credence from the fact that the hackers in the audience are the group that most identify with Corley, a poll of the crowd found that the only one person even got the technology to work.
The program, called DeCSS, and written by Jan Johansen, 16, of Norway, plays DVDs on Windows computers and can be configured to ignore such annoyances such as previews that can't be skipped or other future advertisements.
Earlier this year, Johansen was arrested by Norwegian authorities on charges of hacking after the Motion Picture Association -- the international arm of the MPAA -- turned over their information about the teen to the police.
"The case is still pending. I have been charged. They haven't decided whether to take it to court," said Johansen, who was attending the conference. "Last I knew, they were supposed to decide it by late May." That's last May, he added dryly.
'Speech has been squelched'
The lawyers representing Corley -- whose defense is funded by cyberrights advocacy group, the Electronic Frontier Foundation -- stress that the case is not just about a small publication, the ability to play DVDs, or hackers.
"Speech has been squelched, that is the net result of this," said Robin Gross, staff attorney with the EFF. Gross believes that the judge in the case has already indicated that he favors the movie studios' argument, leaving the EFF with no choice but to get ready for a long appeal.
How far will it go? "We intend to take this case to the Supreme Court," she said to enthusiastic applause from the audience.
MS plays the 'open source' card|
Attacked and hacked!
Hacker attacks welcomed