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Hollywood Vs. the Hacker

Until this year, Emmanuel Goldstein was a hacker activist with a name cribbed from an Orwell novel and a 'zine read by the Secret Service. Then he took on Hollywood and hooked up with Martin Garbus to challenge copyright law as we know it. If he fails, he'll go bankrupt.


It's 5 o'clock on a Friday in midtown, and Emmanuel Goldstein is bushwhacking through the rush-hour crowds at lightning speed, head down, unkempt brown hair catching the breeze, dual cell phones jiggling in the pockets of his faded cargo pants. He barrels through the revolving doors of 488 Madison, into the elevator, and straight up to the offices of the high-powered law firm Frankfurt Garbus Kurnit Klein & Selz, where he confronts a dubious receptionist. "I'm here to see Marty Garbus," he says quickly.

"Is he expecting you?" she asks.

"Yeah," Goldstein replies, unfazed. She gestures to him to take a seat.

Goldstein slouches over to the waiting area and plops down in an upholstered armchair. Sporting a baseball cap, a knapsack, and a T-shirt that reads chaos computer club, he looks more like a 17-year-old video-game fanatic than a client of one of the most respected First Amendment litigators in the country.

Goldstein, 40, is the editor, activist, and sometime cult figure at the helm of the sixteen-year-old hacker journal 2600: The Hacker Quarterly, a 'zine that prints articles like "Hacking the Three Holed Payphone," "Java Applet Hacking," and "Packet Analysis and Header Sniffers." Six months ago, he was in the news for a prank he pulled on Verizon, the phone company created by the merger of Bell Atlantic and GTE. It seems that Verizon, in a preemptive strike, had registered 724 Internet domain names, including the potentially troublesome So Goldstein registered After Verizon accused him of trademark infringement, Goldstein encouraged other hackers to register similar addresses.

That's his idea of fun. The issue he's staking everything on -- literally -- is a copyright-infringement lawsuit brought against him by the Motion Picture Association of America. The suit will determine what consumers can and can't do with their DVD players, as well as force the courts to weigh the relative importance of copyright protection and free speech in the emerging era of digital everything.

Slumped on the sofa in Garbus's book-lined corner office, Goldstein listens as his lawyer discusses the risks of plunging ahead with the case. Goldstein lost the first round of the lawsuit, which the MPAA brought against him for publishing computer code that cracks the copy protection the movie industry puts on DVDs. He's currently liable for the MPAA's court costs but not its legal fees. If he loses his appeal, as Garbus puts it, "the sky falls in" -- he could be looking at more than $8 million in legal fees.

"We could have dropped out, but I think it would be kind of hypocritical, because we spent all these years talking about the importance of standing up for what you believe in."

"They have given up shooting, and they have given up servitude," Garbus jokes, "so what it means is bankruptcy." He smiles. "I figure, Manny, for a man of your stature, what's a couple million more dollars?" Goldstein looks unconcerned -- even impishly pleased with the stakes.

"It doesn't surprise me at all that he's in this situation," says Nicholas Jarecki, a friend and Internet entrepreneur. "He's willing to go out on a limb to make his point. He's willing to take things to their conclusion." If Goldstein loses in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, he and Garbus -- whose bill is being footed by the cyberspace civil-liberties group Electronic Frontier Foundation -- plan to take the case to the Supreme Court.

The corners of Goldstein's mouth turn up ever so slightly: He's hit upon a way to tweak his opponent, MPAA president and CEO Jack Valenti. "The video of the deposition," he says. "Is that copyrighted?"

No, Garbus explains, it's public domain.

Goldstein grins. "Imagine if, as fund-raising, we sold Valenti's deposition on DVD. The more they fought, the more we'd have to sell." Even in the middle of a meeting about a lawsuit that could ruin him, he can't resist one more jab.

Garbus chuckles. "That's a good idea," he says proudly. Talk then turns to the lawyer's impending social obligations with clients, including a trip to Toronto with Al Pacino and a screening of Bamboozled with Spike Lee. But first he has distinctly un-Hollywood plans with an out-of-town guest. "So, Manny" -- he's teasing -- "you wanna come to dinner with Fidel?"

At first glance, Garbus and Goldstein appear unlikely allies. Garbus is a consummate insider who has represented clients like Nelson Mandela, Robert Redford, and the estate of Marilyn Monroe. Goldstein, whose real name is Eric Corley -- he took his name from the "Enemy of the People" in George Orwell's 1984 -- lives with his cat in a secluded house near Stony Brook. In the book, Emmanuel Goldstein is described as "the commander of a vast shadowy army, an underground network of conspirators dedicated to the overthrow of the State."

But in the quickly shifting landscape of intellectual-property law, Goldstein and Garbus have emerged as flip sides of the same coin. If Goldstein is the black sheep of the family, Garbus is the supercool uncle with great stories (guarding the Pentagon Papers in his attic; helping to draft the Czech Constitution) who made it into the corner office without compromising his values. "They're both trying to accomplish the same thing, just through different avenues," says Alex Urbelis, a 2600 staff member. "Emmanuel is pushing the First Amendment boundaries further and further with each issue of 2600, and Marty is out there defending the First Amendment."

Goldstein has run 2600 as a tool of subversion from the beginning. The writer Bruce Sterling, who once compared Goldstein to Václav Havel (another Garbus client), wrote in The Hacker Crackdown: "2600 holds that technical power and specialized knowledge, of any kind obtainable, belong by right in the hands of those individuals brave and bold enough to discover them -- by whatever means necessary." Goldstein describes his mission in simpler terms. "We print information," he told listeners to his weekly WBAI radio show, "Off the Hook," a few days after the judge ruled against him. "And we don't sit around at night wondering what people will do with that information."

In this case, the information is the code for a program called DeCSS, which disables the Content Scramble System (CSS) that prevents consumers from making copies of DVDs. DeCSS was written by a then-15-year-old Norwegian hacker named Jon Johansen not for the purpose of copying DVDs but so he could play them on a computer running the Linux operating system as opposed to Windows or the Mac OS (playing DVDs on other platforms requires buying an additional accessory). Johansen promptly posted DeCSS on the Web, where it was copied on scores of sites. In January, the MPAA filed a lawsuit on behalf of the major movie studios arguing that sites posting the DeCSS code were violating the "anti-circumvention provision" of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (DMCA), which forbids the distribution of anything "primarily designed or produced for the purpose of circumventing a technological measure that effectively controls access to a copyrighted work." Goldstein jumped right into the fracas by publishing a story on the 2600 Website that included the offending code.

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