San Francisco - The California Supreme Court today ruled that a Texas resident who published a software program on the Internet cannot be forced to stand trial in California.
The court found that Matthew Pavlovich, who republished an open source DVD-descrambling software program called DeCSS, will not have to defend a trade secret lawsuit simply because he knew that his publication could cause "general effects" on the motion picture and technology industries in California. The court laid out clear jurisdiction rules for claims arising from publishing information on the Internet.
The Pavlovich decision is one piece of a larger legal struggle over Internet publication of DeCSS by thousands of individuals in fall 1999. European open source developers created DeCSS so they could play their DVDs on Linux computers, among other uses. DVD CCA, the sole licensing entity for a DVD-scrambling technology called CSS, sued hundreds of named and unnamed individuals and entities in the case on December 27, 1999.
Allonn Levy, an attorney with San Jose's Hopkins and Carley, represented Pavlovich pro bono with help from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).
"Mr. Pavlovich had no connections with California whatsoever," noted EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. "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."
The court noted that without reasonable rules for court jurisdiction in Internet cases, "plaintiffs connected to the auto industry could sue any defendant in Michigan, plaintiffs connected to the financial industry could sue any defendant in New York and plaintiffs connected to the potato industry could sue any defendant in Idaho."
The decision also impacts the numerous other defendants named or served in the legal struggle, all but one of whom are located outside California. The appeal of the preliminary injunction entered against the sole California resident named in the case, Andrew Bunner, is awaiting an argument date before the California Supreme Court.
DeCSS is free software that allows people to play DVDs without technological restrictions, such as region codes and forced watching of commercials imposed by movie studios.
Norwegian teenager Jon Johansen originally published DeCSS on the Internet in October 1999. Under pressure from Hollywood, he is still facing criminal prosecution in Norway.