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Big brother's watching and we sure ain't safe

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aj+ column

From time to time, readers chide this column for ignoring web-related liberty issues. A reason is that the issues are complicated and currently are about seeming to trash new copyright legislation. The main legislation is the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), an EC version of which we will be having ourselves this year. Take a look at http: //anti-dcma. org .Trouble is, it is bigtime Big Brother legislation.And its main promoters are the US entertainment (and software) industry.The US act has been in place for too short a time for anyone to know how it will work, but there are signs that it might collapse under its own ponderous mass. In the past month there have been two much-watched court cases pointing in that direction. Bizarrely, both involved foreigners.

Software house Adobe had Russian visitor Dmitri Skylarov arrested and flung into the dangerous and scary US prison system.Alarmed for its profit when customers reacted in horror, it hurriedly withdrew but the Feds had their teeth into the hapless tourist and kept him in the slammer, and then effectively under house arrest, under the provisions of the DMCA.Skylarov's alleged crime was that in his native Russia his company, quite legally, sold software he had programmed which let people read Adobe e-book texts. Just before Christmas, an unusually sane US jury threw the case out.

The other was Norwegian teenager John Lech Johansen, who devised a simple programme which enabled him to watch country-encoded DVDs on his Linux-based computer. DVD encoding apparently didn't know about Linux, which was a pain for Linux people who had bought DVD players and disks.Pliant Norwegian prosecutors working for the Motion Picture Association of America found an obscure law in the penal code worth two years hard labour. Quisling was a Norwegian, I seem to remember.

They went for the youthful and fiendish Johansen's jugular.A Norwegian judge recently threw the case out.

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