Jon Johansen, who helped create software that makes it possible to crack DVD security, faces up to two years in jail on charges originally designed to protect phone and bank records. On Wednesday, Norway's economic crime unit accused Johansen of trying to break through a security system to gain access to material he's not entitled to, in this case a movie on DVD.
"It did come as quite a surprise," said Robin Gross, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who's been helping Johansen navigate the legal quagmire created since his program, DeCSS, first raised the ire of movie studios. Hollywood feared the program would lead to rampant copying of DVDs.
Gross said the charges mark the first time the Norwegian security law has been used to pursue someone for breaking into material he already owns, relegating movies on DVD to the same status as private banking records.
"The Norwegian government finally succumbed to the pressure of Hollywood," she said.
The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) said it has been cooperating with Norwegian authorities and has had an attorney in that country working on the issue since the onset of the case. But a spokeswoman refuted charges that the studios had unduly influenced Norwegian prosecutors.
"Sadly it appears that there are still those who have a propensity to blame the law, law enforcement and courts every time the law is applied to illegal conduct," said MPAA spokeswoman Emily Kutner.
Neither Johansen nor the Norwegian authorities could be reached for comment.
Norwegian law enforcement officials, at the prompting of American movie studios, first arrested Johansen in January 2000 in connection with his DeCSS program. He was later released.
However, DeCSS quickly spawned a series of movie industry-backed lawsuits in the United States against people who linked to or posted the code on the Web. Johansen testified during the federal case, but so far judges have sided with Hollywood and deemed the posting of DeCSS illegal.