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Links to Illegal Material / Liability


DeCSS – Cases: Universal City Studios, Inc. v. Reimerdes and  DVD Copy Control Association, Inc. v. Andrew Bunner - International Reserve Inc. v. Tanners - Bernstein v. J.C Penney - Nottinghamshire County Council v. Journalists - IFPI Schweden v. Tommy Olssen - Direct links into Peer-2-Peer networks - / - Sir Elton John v. Countess Joulebine - - Google v. Scientology - Deutsche Bahn v. AltaVista, Google, Yahoo - Deutsche Bahn v. XS4ALL - Deutsche Bahn v. - Lucasfilm v. / NaboOnline - Cyber Patrol - MP3Board v. RIAA - Scientology v. Spaink - Microsoft v. Slashdot - IFPI v. Fast Search / Lycos - Suhrkamp v. Kantel - UCSD v. Student Group - Google v. Illegal Contents - IFPI China MyWeb


DeCSS – Cases: Universal City Studios, Inc. v. Reimerdes and  DVD Copy Control Association, Inc. v. Andrew Bunner

It started in 1999 when Norwegian teen Jon Johansen created DeCSS to descramble DVDs so that they could be played on PCs running the Linux operating system. DeCSS, which can break the encryption on almost any DVD, was posted on several websites shortly after. Despite the DVD CCA and the motion picture industry's anti-piracy task force sending notices to dozens of Web site operators demanding the information be removed, the dissemination of the program could not be stopped effectively.

Eight major motion picture companies filed injunction complaints in New York against three alleged hackers to prevent them from publishing DeCSS and later to stop them from linking to hundreds of mirror websites containing DeCSS. Defendant's attorneys argued that posting of DeCSS was protected under the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech and the press. Judge Kaplan's August 2000 93-page ruling prevents defendants from not only distributing copies of DeCSS, but also from linking to Websites where it resides. The decision was upheld by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Defendants announced that they will not seek U.S. Supreme Court review of the court order, ending the two-and-a-half year legal battle over DeCSS in New York.

The DVD Copy Control Association brought a lawsuit against 72 hackers and Website authors and succeeded in seeking a court order in California that prevents the defendants from continuing to post the DeCSS program. But they failed to enjoy defendants from linking to it. In November 2001, the Appellate Court ruled in Defendant's favor, finding that the lower court violated his First Amendment rights when it forced him to remove DeCSS from his website. The DVD Copy Control Association has appealed to the California Supreme Court to challenge the appeals panel ruling.  

January 2003 Update:

Norwegian teenager Jon Johansen, the creator of a computer program that enables unauthorised copying of DVDs, was acquitted of all charges against him in a Norwegian court.

According to a ruling from the California Supreme Court in November 2002, Andrew Brunner can not be sued in a California court, because he resides in Texas: "the mere posting of information on a passive Internet Web site, which is accessible from anywhere but is directed at no particular audience, cannot be an action targeted at a particular (state)." 

The U.S. Supreme Court has lifted a temporary stay that barred Brunner from posting DeCSS on the internet, ending the DVD Copy Control Association's effort to keep the California Supreme Court ruling from taking effect.

February 2003 Update:

Norwegian prosecutors are appealing the court ruling that acquitted 19-year-old Jon Lech Johansen of charges for creating DeCSS.


News Articles  


“Some” case documents:    


Not enough links yet? See Links to DVD news of technical and legislative/litigative natures, DeCSS Press Coverage,, Universal, et al. v. 2600, et al. – Bibliography for more press coverage.

Also see the Openlaw/DVD forum.

Look here for A Brief History of DeCSS and the DMCA.


For legal documents see the EFF Archive for Universal City Studios, Inc. v. Reimerdes and for DVD Copy Control Association, Inc. v. Andrew Bunner. Case Documents are also available here and in the 2600 Archive.


Also available online is an Interview with Jon Johansen, the Norwegian, who created DeCSS.

Want to see Photos from the trial? Want to listen to the arguments? AUDIO AVAILABLE FOR 2600 DECSS HEARING, 2600 News Archive

Also see the Decision Section: November 28, 2001, November 1, 2001, August 17, 2000, February 2, 2000, January 20, 2000 

And finally for the people out there with humor: Pannell, Dean, I want my DVD, your honor, osOpinion


Intellectual Reserve Inc. v. Tanners

A temporary restraining order stopped the Tanners from displaying parts of the Church Handbook of Instructions on their website. Soon after the ruling they posted e-mails on their Website that tell visitors where to find copies of the book online. They didn’t link to these sites, but merely provided the URL. International Reserve Inc., the corporation that holds the copyrights in the book, successfully asked a court to expand the restraining order. In view of the court the URL posting amounted to contributory copyright infringement. The case was finally settled.


Also see the Decision Section: December 6, 1999


Bernstein v. J.C Penney

Department store J.C. Penney and cosmetics company Elizabeth Arden were sued by Photographer Gary Bernstein because of an unauthorized reproduction of one of his photographs. The picture was three clicks away from the website of the defendants. In the opinion of Los Angeles Judge Manuel Real the links did not violate Bernstein’s copyright.


Nottinghamshire County Council v. Journalists

In 1997 three British journalists posted the so called JET-Report on their website, which deals with a flawed government investigation into a case of alleged satanic ritual abuse. The journalists removed the report after Britain's high court issued an injunction, ordering them to take the report off their site.

To stop this government censorship, people around the globe put the report on their websites and thus created several mirror sites. The journalists linked to these websites. The Nottinghamshire County Council tried to stop the dissemination and to keep the content of the report a secret. They send threatening letters to several people, but finally dropped all legal action.

News Articles


Also see the Decision Section: June 3, 1997


IFPI Schweden v. Tommy Olssen

Criminal charges were filed against Tommy Olssen, because he had provided links to more than 300 copyrighted songs. Sweden’s Supreme Court dismissed the lawsuit.

Also see the Decision Section: June 15, 2000


Direct links into Peer-2-Peer networks

Fake files in Peer-2-Peer networks begin to spoil the fun of illegal downloads. In reaction to this development, direct links into Peer-2-Peer networks are becoming more and more popular. Several websites confirm the authenticity of files and provide directlinks, e.g. Sharereactor, Filenexus or Bitzi. Direct links into the Gnutella network are called "Magnet Uniform Ressource" (Magnet URI), into Kazaa sig2dat. 

The sig2dat program e.g. creates startfiles and gives a file a unique signature hash that no other file has. Thus a file hash serves as the identifier of a file content and can be compared to a fingerprint. A user can report the hash information to other users, thus enabling them to create startfiles. The program also enables a user to create quicklinks. A quicklink works and looks like any regular website link, but instead of taking a user to a website it creates a startfile in the shared folder. When a user opens Grokster or KaZaa, the startfile automatically shows up in the traffic section and the download of the file starts. (For more information on the technical background see the FastTrackMovies FAQ)

IFPI Germany send letters to several webmasters demanding they remove directlinks to music files in P2P networks within 24 hours. Several webmaster complied. /

Also see the Decisions Section: December 19, 2000


Sir Elton John v. Countess Joulebine

Defendant, who operates a website specialized in gossip, linked to a highly confidental stolen document relating to a court case between Sir Elton John and his accountants., a website that redirected people to a variety of other pirated software suppliers around the world, has been closed down.



Google v. Scientology

The Church of Scientology demanded that Google remove links to anti-Scientology websites from the Google search engine, which violate their copyright. Google removed certain specific URLs in response to the notification.  


Google, Digital Millennium Copyright Act

Quote from e-mail 20.03.2002


Deutsche Bahn v. AltaVista, Google, Yahoo

Deutsche Bahn sent letters to AltaVista, Yahoo and Google asking them to remove hyperlinks to the online copies of two articles from the German-language left-wing extremist publication, Radikal, which has been outlawed in Germany. The articles published under the headline "A handbook for destruction of railroad transport of all kinds" detail how to cut power on parts of the railway system. All three search engines complied with the request, thus avoiding a lawsuit.

§    April 22, 2002: Schulzki-Haddouti, Christiane, Deutsche Bahn setzt sich bei Suchmaschinen-Betreiber durch, Telepolis:
"Die Deutsche Bahn hat die deutschen Tochtergesellschaften der Suchmaschinen Google, Altavista und Yahoo abgemahnt - mit Erfolg."

§    April 22, 2002: Suchmaschinen entfernen “radikale” Links, Heise:
"Die deutschen Tochtergesellschaften der Suchmaschinen Google, Altavista und Yahoo folgen der Abmahnung der Deutschen Bahn, Links auf die Site der linksradikalen Zeitschrift Radikal aus dem Angebot zu nehmen."


Deutsche Bahn v. XS4ALL


Deutsche Bahn v.

Indymedia website contained links to mirror sites of Radikal which have popped up all over the Web. Deutsche Bahn demanded the removal of the links on April 23, 2002. refused and Deutsche Bahn sued. A dutch judge ordered Indymedia NL to remove links pointing to the mirrors of Radikal sites from a page on their website. What makes the decision especially noteworthy is the fact, that all links were surface links. None of the links was pointing to the offending articles directly!

  Also see the Decision Section: June 20, 2002


Lucasfilm v. / NaboOnline

After a request from Lucasfilm Ltd. at least two fan sites stopped linking stolen storyboard images from the film "Star Wars: Episode II."


Cyber Patrol

The hack of Cyber Patrol, a blocking software offered by Mattel, was done by two persons with a program they called “cphack.” Cphack was designed to reveal the list of blocked sites that Mattel didn’t want to disclose to the public. Matell first sued the hackers from distributing Cphack over their website. After getting an injunction, Mattel went after mirror sites that posted Cphack and anyone who downloaded it or linked to it.


MP3Board v. RIAA

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) sent several cease-and-desist lettes to, a search engine that provides hyperlinks to MP3 music files available for download over the Internet, alleging that the links would infringe their copyright. MP3Board filed a preemptive lawsuit on June 2, 2000 in federal district court in San Jose to get a decision on whether providing hyperlinks constitutes copyright infringement or not. MP3Board also asked for redress for the RIAA's role in temporarily shutting down the MP3Board Website. A short time later, the RIAA also filed suit in federal district court in New York.

News Articles:

Legal Documents:

§         April 23, 2001: MP3Board Opposition to RIAA Motion for Summary Judgment

§         April 23, 2001: MP3Board Opposition to Record Company Motion fur Summary Judgement

§         April 6, 2001: MP3Board Motion for Summary Judgment

§         June 2, 2000: Complaint


Information on the lawsuit on the MP3Board website.


Scientology v. Spaink

According to a Dutch court ruling links to a website that infringes someone’s copyright are also an infringement. The decision stems from a lawsuit Scientology filed against the journalist Karin Spaink, who posted materials written by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard on her  Website.

Also see: Postings and information about the Dutch protest against Scientology

Also see the Decisions Section: June 9, 1999


Microsoft v. Slashdot

On May 2, 2000, Slashdot posted an article describing Microsoft's extensions to the Kerberos standard. Several Slashdot users posted hyperlinks to Microsoft's Kerberos specifications. Microsoft sent Slashdot a letter claiming copyright violation and loss of trade secrets, and requested to remove posts containing links. Slashdot refused to remove the posts. Microsoft should not suppress free speech in the public Web forum.


IFPI v. Fast Search / Lycos

IFPI sued Norwegian company FAST Search over the use of its MP3 search engine and database. Fast's software offers links to more than half a million MP3-based copyrighted songs. FAST MP3 Search finally resolved the conflict with RIAA and IFPI in June 1999.

Information on the signing of a contract


Suhrkamp v. Kantel

Kantel’s website contained a link to an illegal copy of Martin Walser’s latest book “Tod eines Kritikers”. The Suhrkamp Verlag send him a  cease-and-desist-letter.

Letter from Suhrkamp


UCSD v. Student Group

The University of California at San Diego ordered a student organization called the Chè Cafè Collective to delete hyperlinks to the official site of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), an alleged terrorist organization. After receiving several letters, the University agreed with the signers of the letters that links are a First Amendment right.


Google v. Illegal Contents

Section 512 of the DMCA protects online service providers e.g. search engines from liability for information posted or transmitted by subscribers if they quickly remove or disable access to material identified in the copyright holder's complaint. You will find many cease and desist letters adressed to Google on the Chilling Effects Website.  

According to a report from Harvards Univerity's Berkman Center, Google also deleted more than 100 controversial sites from its French and German listings. Banned are e.g. anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi websites and a fundamentalist Christian site that is adamantly opposed to abortion. The removed sites still appear after a search on the site.


IFPI China MyWeb

MyWeb settled a lawsuit brought against it in China by the IFPI. The IFPI lawsuit had been filed in the People's Court of Beijing in December 1999, claiming MyWeb’s site enabled Internet users to download the sound recordings of IFPI members through hyperlinks and search engines.