DeCSS refers to a computer program capable of decrypting or bypassing the anti-copying system used on commercial DVDs. The digital versatile disc, also referred to as a digital video disc, was invented in 1995 and offered higher storage capacity than the compact disc (CD). To prevent copying, a content scrambling system was developed in 1996 that was widely used until it was broken in 1999 through the development and distribution of a free ware program called DeCSS. This was the same year that the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA), signed into law by President Clinton, made disabling of a digital rights management system illegal.
DeCSS was a collaborative effort. Although three people are believed to have been involved, only one person, a 15-year-old Norwegian teenager named John Lech Johansen, was ever identified. The Motion Picture Association (MPA) and the DVD Copy Control Association (CCA), filed a complaint against Johansen who was taken to court in Norway for computer hacking in 2002. He faced two years in court. The Electronic Frontier Foundation assisted in his defense.
Johansen pleased not guilty and claimed he had helped create DeCSS so he would be able to view DVDs on his Linux computer. Only by disabling the copy protection on a DVD could he view the contents. He claimed to have used DeCSS on a DVD he owned only once.
There were public protests in support of Johansen during the trial and he became a poster boy for hackers worldwide who believed that making software like DeCSS is an act of intellectual freedom rather than theft. Johansen was acquitted and then re-tried before again being acquitted. Over the years, programmers around the world have created and distributed hundreds of programs equivalent to DeCSS as freeware—which has resulted in a loss of revenue that the motion picture industry estimated at $20 billion a year.
As a result of the trial Johansen quit high school in his first year and eventually became a self-trained software engineer. He was featured in a documentary film Info Wars.