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DVD Jon and Oboe

This week MP3tunes added a new employee - a Norwegian named Jon Lech Johansen. He's half Polish - as you can probably tell from the "Lech" in his name. Most people know him as "DVD Jon" for the software he co-wrote when he was just 15 years old that allowed DVD movies to play on his computer.

He endured two trials over the DVD software. Although the trial was in Norway, the legal case against him was orchestrated by MPA, the European arm of the powerful U.S. movie organization called MPAA. He willingly turned over the encryption key to unlock the contents of his computer for the prosecution. They cross-examined him for days on the stand using years of chat logs, out-of-context emails and even smiley symbols in an attempt to paint him as a technology gangster. Anyone who spends five minutes with Jon knows that this characterization is not consistent with reality.

He was ultimately acquitted. Unlike in the United States, which has a law against "double jeopardy" where you cannot be tried twice for the same crime, in Norway a prosecutor can file an appeal and put a defendant through another trial - which they did. He was acquitted once again.

I've known Jon for a few years as an email acquaintance. I have always admired his work and his strength to stand up for what he believes is right. He doesn't advocate piracy, but does advocate consumers' rights to manage their own purchased content. I told him that if he ever needed my assistance to let me know.

A few months back I got an email from him saying he wanted to move to the United States. We arranged to talk and had a subsequent conversation over Gizmo Project while he was in Europe and I was in San Diego. During that call I learned that he thought the opportunities for him to work on consumer projects - specifically an audio project - were much better in the States than in his home country of Norway, which is much more focused on business software. He was familiar with my companies and writings and thought we shared a similar ideology.

Unknown to him, MP3tunes is in the midst of a project called Oboe to bring digital music into the 21st century. I knew he'd be a great fit for the team, so I quickly extended him a job offer. It took a few months to process the immigration paperwork, but now he's living in San Diego and working on Oboe.

Oboe is the code name for a significant new project we have underway that will launch before the end of the year. It's as momentous as anything I've ever done in my technical career, but I won't say more since I despise vaporware. I know this project will be even better with Jon on board.

Last Saturday, the Wall Street Journal ran a front page story about Jon relocating to the United States. After that, he got plenty of job offers from some of the biggest names in the technology business. I talked to him over lunch today and asked if he wanted to work at those other companies. "Not really," he replied in a typical minimalist Scandinavian-style reply, forcing me to ask why not. "I want to work on open systems, which is why I came to you."

He's going to like Oboe and so will you. Stay tuned.

-- MichaelThe Michael's Minute Meter
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