Court: Texan can't be lassoed into CA DVD case

The California Supreme Court ruled that a Texas resident who published a DVD descrambling software program on the Internet could not be forced to stand trial in California just because the entertainment industry is centralized there.

The decision, released late Monday, could help set jurisdictional issues in future Internet cases.

Without reasonable rules for Internet jurisdiction, "plaintiffs connected to the auto industry could sue any defendant in Michigan" and "plaintiffs connected to the financial industry could sue any defendant in New York," the court noted in its ruling.

The decision Monday came as part of a case originally filed in 1999 by the DVD Copy Control Association Inc. (DVD CCA), claiming that Texas resident Matthew Pavlovich and a number of other defendants violated state law governing trade secrets by revealing the contents of the entertainment industry's DVD encryption code called Contents Scramble System (CSS).

Pavlovich and the other defendants are accused of revealing the encryption program when they published decryption code, dubbed DeCSS (De Contents Scramble System), which allows Linux users to view DVDs on their machines.

Pavlovich published the code while he was a Purdue University student in Indiana as part of an online open source development forum.

"Mr. Pavlovich had no connections with California whatsoever," Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) Legal Director Cindy Cohn said in a statement. "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."

According to the EFF, the decision also affects a number of another defendants in the case who reside outside of California. The sole California resident named in the case, Andrew Bunner, is awaiting a hearing date before the California Supreme Court.

The original creator of the DeCSS code, Norwegian teen Jon Johansen, was indicted earlier this year in Norway. He is still facing criminal prosecution in the case, according to the EFF.

While the entertainment industry claims that distribution of the DVD descrambling code threatens their business, the defendants claim that the code has legitimate uses, allowing them to view DVDs on their Linux machines.

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Scarlet Pruitt

IDG News Service
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