Return of the Hacker

by Jason Kroll

At movie theaters all over the world, hackers, civil libertarians, Linux enthusiasts and their friends will be passing out this flyer to movie-goers and passers-by in protest of the recent actions taken against the Linux community, DeCSS author Jon Lech Johansen, DVD users, and technological freedom in general.

The DVD-CCA (DVD Copy Control Association) developed a weak encryption scheme which it intended to use in order to have complete control over the DVD player market. Manufacturers of DVD players would have to pay heavy licensing fees, and would have to submit their players to being able to play only certain DVDs (according to regional encoding). The industry enjoys releasing movies in the U.S. at middle-range prices, and then releasing them at a higher price six months later in Europe, something which it has been able to do owing to the different formats used by American and European VHS. With DVDs, one could theoretically buy a DVD in America and play it in Europe, China, India or New Zealand. However, regional encoding, though illegal according to international trade laws and the internal laws of many nations, would have enabled the industry to prevent American DVDs from working anywhere but America—in other words, a clever restriction against free trade. This allows the industry to release movies slowly, trickling them out at the optimum prices specific to each country, in order to extract as much money as possible. Worst of all for the hacker community, however, is that DVDs can only be played on Windows and Mac computers, through proprietary players, but not on Linux.

MoRE (Masters of Reverse Engineering) broke the weak encryption algorithm and released the findings in order to enable the development of a free DVD player for Linux. The DVD-CCA was furious, not because of potential piracy as was alleged, but because this code would disable their dominance of the player market, as well as putting an end to regional coding and other practices, such as continent-specific censorship. The DVD-CCA sent the lawyers of the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) after web sites on which the decryption algorithm was explained. This initially resulted in suits against 60 sites, and later over 500 Web sites were named. The pinnacle of brilliance came when Jon Lech Johansen's home was raided by special police at the intimation of the MPAA (see Crackers and Crackdowns for complete details on this event and the DVD situation). Shortly thereafter, 2600 The Hacker Quarterly began promoting protests. Within a few days, this press release was issued:


February 2, 2000



Members of the hacker and open source communities worldwide, along with various civil liberties groups, are planning a massive leafletting campaign on Friday, February 4 to call attention to the recent attempts by the Motion Picture Association of America to shut down thousands of web sites.

Lawsuits have been filed against hundreds of people, as well as an Internet Service Provider and a magazine, for having information the MPAA wants to keep secret.

The controversy centers around a computer program known as DeCSS, thought to be written by a 16 year old in Norway. The program defeats the encryption scheme used by DVD's which prohibits them from being viewed on non-approved machines or computers. It also enables DVD's from one country to be played in another, contrary to the wishes of the movie industry. It does NOT facilitate DVD piracy - in fact, copying DVD's has been possible since their introduction years ago. In its press releases on the subject, the MPAA has claimed that this is a piracy issue, and they have subsequently succeeded in getting injunctions against a number of sites that had posted the program in the interests of free speech.

This is in effect a lawsuit against the entire Internet community by extremely powerful corporate interests. The lawsuit and the various actions being planned promise to be a real showdown between two increasingly disparate sides in the technological age. The consequences of losing this case are so serious that civil libertarians, professors, lawyers and a wide variety of others have already stepped forward to help out.

Friday's action will be coordinated in 74 cities throughout North America and 26 cities in other parts of the world. Leafletting will take place outside theaters and video stores in these cities - all of which participate in a monthly “2600” gathering. 2600 Magazine has been named in two lawsuits regarding the DeCSS program and has joined with the growing number of people who will fight these actions by the MPAA until the end.

The lawsuit has been filed by the Motion Picture Association of America, Columbia/Tristar, Universal City Studios, Paramount Pictures, Disney Enterprises, Twentieth Century Fox, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, and Time Warner Entertainment.

Contact: Emmanuel Goldstein (631) 751-2600 ext. 0


The protests will be this Friday, as in, today. In order to participate, check the 2600 homepage for details or follow these instructions:

o Print out this flyer as black on white.

o Photocopy this flyer around one hundred times or more on brightly colored paper.

o Check in the back of 2600 magazine or on their website for the list of meeting places in your city so that you can meet other hackers at around 5 p.m. and have company while passing out the flyers.

o Stand outside of your local cinema (preferably mainstream cinemas rather than independent film houses) and hand the flyers out to anyone willing to take them. 2600 has advice on how to be successful at this.


o Many people have suggested joining the Electronic Frontier Foundation. I have contributed as much as I can afford, and believe them to be a good investment in humanity's future. It may also be a good time to subscribe to 2600.

o Remember that we're boycotting the motion picture industry, in particular Sony (Columbia/Tristar), Disney, Warner Brothers, MGM, Paramount, Fox, and Universal Studios, so when seized with the desire to see a movie, remember independent film!

Important Links:

2600 - The Hacker Quarterly

Electronic Frontier Foundation

See our other articles on hacker/cracker culture, “Free Kevin, Kevin Freed” and “Crackers and Crackdowns”

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