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DVD Jon starts work for Linspire's Michael Robertson

Teenage lawsuits do pay off, kids

The Norwegian hacker who was arrested, and ultimately exonerated, for reverse-engineering DVD copy protection has taken a job with Michael Robertson's latest venture, a digital music company called MP3tunes. Jon Lech Johansen, also known as DVD Jon, began work on Monday for the San Diego company, Robertson said yesterday.

Johansen has now moved to the US and is working in MP3tunes' San Diego offices as a software engineer. His first project: a digital music product, code-named Oboe, which is designed to "bring digital music into the 21st century," according to Robertson, the company's chief executive officer.

Oboe will be a digital music product comprising both software and a service component. It is expected to be released by the end of the year, Robertson said. He declined to provide further details on the product, other than to say it would represent a "shift for MP3tunes", which is an online music store.

Robertson is no stranger to the music business. He was also the founder of online music vendor MP3.com, which was sold to Vivendi Universal in 2001. After that, he went on to start a number of ventures, including Linux vendor Linspire (formerly Lindows).

According to Robertson, Johansen approached MP3tunes about the job several months ago, because he felt there were better opportunities in the US than in his native Norway. "He wanted to work on consumer software," Robertson said. "In particular he was hoping to work on software that was audio-relevant."

Johansen is now one of six engineers working for the 10-person company, Robertson added.

As a teenager, DVD Jon became a celebrity in the Linux and hacker community for releasing software that let Linux users run DVDs on their PCs. The software also cracked the CSS (Content Scrambling System) copy protection mechanism used by DVDs. In 2002 Johansen was charged with violating Norwegian law.

The hacker was ultimately acquitted of the charges a year later after a Norwegian court found no evidence that he had used his code to produce or watch illegal copies of DVDs.

More recently, Johansen has reverse engineered a number of technologies used by Apple's digital music products, including the iTunes Music Store protocol and the AirTunes protocol.

Whether that work will ultimately lead Johansen into further legal trouble in the US was not a major consideration for Robertson. "It wasn't an analysis that I did," he said. "What he did outside of MP3tunes, to some degree doesn't matter to me."

What was an important consideration, however, is the shared view that the technology entrepreneur and the hacker share on open-music standards, Robertson said. "I'm a huge believer of open standards," he said. "I want a world where you can listen to your music on any device whether it has a fruit logo or not, whether it has a Microsoft logo or not, and that's hopefully what we'll push the world toward at MP3tunes."


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