July 10, 2001

Fighting for freedom with LiViD's Matthew Pavlovich

Author: JT Smith

- By Julie Bresnick -
Open Source people -

As the American dream contorts in response to the pressures of time,
Matthew Pavlovich, a man on the receiving end of a DeCSS-related lawsuit,
maintains a traditional course. Like many Americans before him, he works hard for
a stable corporation in the hopes of some day retiring early to a horse
ranch of his very own. He doesn't drink excessively, he has never tried drugs
and he's been employed, in one way or another, since the age of 10. He's an
Eagle Scout.

At age 23, he is also a veteran independent, finding
satisfaction in knowing that everything he owns he paid for himself.
But for Pavlovich, supporting himself isn't simply a matter of paying
rent, buying groceries and going to bargain matinees. It means protecting
his credit from the ceaseless onslaught of mounting legal fees.

In December 1999, the DVD Copy
Control Association
(DVD CCA) sued Pavlovich, along with
a couple dozen other defendants, for allegedly violating the California Uniform Trade Secrets Act by posting the DeCSS code, for playing DVDs on Linux, on their
individual Web sites. Pavlovich was puzzled. Considering he neither
lives nor works in California and his site, LiViD, is hosted in Germany, how
could he fall under California jurisdiction? He retained his own legal
representation and took his argument to the California Supreme Court,
which subsequently voted unanimously in favor of Pavlovich. Now, the DVD CCA
has the opportunity, on July 12, to demonstrate how Pavlovich's inclusion in the lawsuit
is viable. Pavlovich said he and his lawyer, Allonn Levy of the San
Jose-based Huber Samuelson
Law Group
, are enthusiastic about the impending appeals court hearing.

But with related cases proceeding in New York and public debate
regarding the boundaries of digital copyright still ensuing, even if he is
dropped from the roster of the California case his relief will be limited.

"There's a lot at stake here with regards to technology and what's
right. I know it sounds like red-white-and-blue, oh-say-can-you-see kind of
stuff, but I think what they were doing is really wrong, and I wasn't going to
step aside when they said, 'you can't fight me.' I was like, 'you wanna bet?' "

Many in the establishment might consider his actions flippant in
nature or simply by-products of the rabble-rousing disposition afforded by
youth. But given the dedication, sacrifice, and intellectual challenge his
legal battles have posed, it looks more like conviction and, even though
Pavlovich may be a little bashful in admitting it, patriotism.

"I kind of come from a long line of people that, well, that do
interesting things. My grandfather served with the U.S. government on
the Manhattan Project. Dad was in the Air Force, served in Vietnam and
worked on a top secret airplane. One of the things that really bugs me is when
they say that I'm an anarchist and unpatriotic. That really gets the blood

Though the idea that he is considered a criminal upsets
him, Pavlovich, now well-versed in the complicated proceedings of the legal
system, checks his frustration. Save one almost playful growl, his
voice is calm and his explanations patient.

I asked him if the high-tech nature of the details posed a
problematic knowledge gap in the court proceedings. He said there is a hurdle but it's
not an intellectual one.

"I think the gap is in understanding that very young people can be
very knowledgeable and considered experts in the field. I'd have to say
that the age factor played a big role, not the biggest, but judges in these kind
of cases seem to have preconceived notions about these 15-year-old
kids trying to rip off credit card companies on Amazon.com. So when they
see a young person come in and talk this techno mumbo-jumbo, they have a hard
time accepting that what they're saying is true. It's a credibility issue."

Though his record is not on the line in the New York case, MPAA vs. 2600, he served on the case as an
expert witness.

His road to expertise started around age 8 when he would
"doink" around with Assembly on his family computer. In seventh grade, he
started teaching himself BASIC. Inspired by the unlimited nature of
programming exploration, he continued to teach himself. About seven years ago he
discovered Linux. He became a Debian Developer and got involved with
the Utah-GLX project (founded
by fellow Debian Developer Stephen Crowley) and its legacy DRI project. In the
spring of 2000, he left Purdue University, a year shy of a bachelor's in
computer engineering, to work on a project called Media Driver. Unable to get
funding, he now works in Dallas doing research and development for Allegiance Telecom.

"I originally began working on the Utah-GLX project because I was
interested in getting a DVD module for my Matrox G200 to
work under Linux. I had the docs for the DVD chipset, but needed more
documentation on the Matrox video card itself. Thus, the Linux Video
and DVD Project (LiViD) was founded. OpenDVD.org spun off of LiViD as a
general resource of information on DVD technology."

The DeCSS code is the result of the kind of reverse engineering not
only necessary to create a Linux player but, according to Pavlovich, legal
under the fair use doctrine provided for under current copyright law.

He says he didn't even know the code was posted on LiViD, but as
founder he took responsibility, which wasn't a burden when he considered
the implications of the court case. There are the same stakes in New York, which is testing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), a precedent that he says poses
a serious threat to not only Linux-related projects but to technology in

"It gives power to a lot of old school companies. They could
basically end all the reverse engineering efforts for interoperability. The DMCA
takes away a lot of the rights for fair use established in the original
copyright laws. It gives the large companies the right to wield
copyright as a tool to protect monopoly, wield it basically with as much force or
more force than a patent."

And to Pavlovich, interoperability is a most important issue.

"The ability for multiple systems from multiple vendors -- the
Internet wouldn't work if it weren't for everything being open and available. I
think there's a need for people to have closed-source commercial
software, but they need to be compliant with open standards."

New technology often emerges to a clambering of protest before its change, albeit minimized by resistance, is eventually enfolded into the
fleshy folds of society. But this change comes with an army of
America's future, rigged with the idealism of youth and bolstered by science
unrealized by the masses. It will take a lot more than disapproval to
maintain the status quo.

More on Matthew Pavlovich

City of birth: St. Louis

Favorite book: Perl Five Quick Reference Manual

Last movie he saw: Office Space

Favorite movies: Heat, Things To Do in Denver When You're Dead

Video game: Quake Three

Band to code to: Pearl Jam or Pink Floyd

Linux distribution: true blue Debian user

Snack food: tacos

Poison: Shiner
, Crown Royal

Mail Reader: ("Oh, I'm going to burn for this one.") favorite is Pine
but ends up using Netscape Mail more often

Editor: vi


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