July 17, 2000
It could not have been better timing. With the completion of the H2K.com conference this past weekend, hackers from around the world joined members of 2600 and The New York Linux Users Group to converge in front of the United States Court House in New York City in a show of support for 2600 Magazine [ http://www.2600.com/ ] on the first day of the the federal trial, MPAA vs 2600.
Eric Corley, who also goes by the name Emmanuel Goldstein (from the George Orwell novel 1984) is the publisher of 2600, a Website dedicated to hacker news and information. The Motion Picture Association of America, the big lobbyist group that represents the major Hollywood movie studios including Disney, Fox, Paramount, Sony and Warner Brothers, targeted Corley after he began publicizing the source code for DeCSS (Decode Content Scrambling System), a free software utility that allows users to bypass encryption codes and copy DVDs onto their computers.
Wearing t-shirts bearing DeCSS on the back, protestors waved posters, handed out flyers, and shouted "Save Free Speech" in unison while Martin Garbus, attorney for the defense, worked the courtroom inside.
On behalf of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Garbus filed a motion in the morning to disqualify Judge Lewis Kaplan from presiding over the trial after discovery revealed that he advised Time Warner on DVD matters while in private practice. At another point during his private career, Kaplan had accused Garbus of professional misconduct and cautioned a co-worker against taking a position in Garbus' law firm. With his laptop open in front of him, the Judge denied the motion without comment and the day progressed.
Outside the courthouse, broadcast and online journalists from CNN, MSNBC, Reuters, ZDNet, Wired, The Salon, and two documentary film crews were on hand to cover the gathering of people who formed a wall of protest.
Richard Stallman, creator of the General Public License and free software luminary, answered questions as more reporters and protestors arrived. Frank DeLange unceasingy played guitar throughout the day and his original composition "MPAA," came off like a modern day rebel song.
The New York Police Department did a great job today. Permits had been obtained and rules were honored, so the demonstration maintained a peaceful (although at times loud) cadence. Color-coded barricades were arranged for the press and the demonstrators.
Congressman Gerald Nadler of Brooklyn passed by and was puzzled. "How can this be happening?" he expressed in alarm as Nyluggers explained how copyright priviledges were being extended to prevent the manufacture of DVD-playing Linux computers.
The trial was paused for lunch and as people streamed into the sunlight, they were greeted by the throng. This afforded the chance for both sides to share information about what was happening. Jon Johansen, the 16 year old Norwegian who wrote DeCSS in order to play a DVD movie on his Linux computer (and was subsequently arrested for it) was on hand for some short interviews with the press.
After lunch, the trial resumed with testimony by Michael Shamous, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh who claimed that his research shows that new technology increases the speed at which copying can occur and that DeCSS use is on the rise. Under cross examination, Martin Garbus proceeded to destroy this witness on the stand and bring his credibility into doubt. Shamous explained that he was getting paid $400 per hour and the MPAA was going to pay him $30,000 for his testimony in this case. Under the directed questioning of Mr. Garbus, this "expert" witness actually admitted that he obeyed a directive from the MPAA to remove a reference from his study - a relevant article from the New York Times that mentioned free speech. "Why did they ask you to do that?" asked Garbus. "Because the MPAA didn't want to cloud the case with First ammendment issues" replied Shamous. This comment resulted in a combination of chuckling and buckling from all sides of the courtroom. After more questions, Garbus brought out the fact that Shamous did not have any information that anyone other than himself and his assistant had ever used code from 2600.com to create a DVD copy.
All in all, it was a good day with a great number of demonstrators and journalists who raised awareness and helped to fight the battle for free speech and fair use. Special thanks to Billy Donahue who coordinated the event and teamed up NYLUG and EFF resources. As well, a special thanks goes out to Ruben Safir and all those who helped to obtain permits and make the day a successful one.
- Jim Gleason, President, New York Linux Users Group [ http://www.nylug.org/ ]
Harvard's Open Law OpenDVD site. Transcripts, mailing lists, and comprehensive list of all press coverage. [ http://eon.law.harvard.edu/openlaw/dvd ]
Electronic Frontier Foundation DVD Updates [ http://www.eff.org/IP/Video/dvd_updates_archive.html ]
2600.org [ http://www.2600.org/ ]
NYLUG.org Press Release [ http://www.nylug.org/7_17_00_release.txt ]
LXNY press release [ http://www.eskimo.com/~lo/linux/dvddemo.txt ]
New Yorkers for Fair Use press release [ http://www.nyfairuse.org/ ]
ZDNet News: DeCSS in Court, DVDs can be Cracked [ http://www.zdnet.com/zdnn/stories/news/0,4586,2604503,00.html?chkpt=zdhpnews01 ]
Salon.com: Code on trial [ http://www.salon.com/tech/feature/2000/07/19/decss_trial/index1.html ]
New York Newsday: Curtain Rises on Movie-Hacker Trial "Sleepless," "Matrix" featured attractions [ http://www.newsday.com/coverage/current/tech/tuesday/nd7741.htm ]
New York Law Journal: Hacker Threat Decried at DVD Trial [ http://www.nylj.com/stories/00/07/071800a2.htm ]
Billy Donahue's photos [ http://dadadada.net/~billy/thumbnails.html ]
Declan McCullagh from Wired News [ http://www.mccullagh.org/theme/dvd-2600-trial.html ]
More photos from Declan McCullagh [ http://www.mccullagh.org/theme/2600.html ]