A Norwegian teenager was acquitted in a key test case today (Jan. 7) of violating computer break-in laws with his program that circumvents security codes on Hollywood's DVD movies.

A Norwegian teenager was acquitted in a key test case today (Jan. 7) of violating computer break-in laws with his program that circumvents security codes on Hollywood's DVD movies. Jon Lech Johansen was 15 when he developed and posted his program, called DeCSS, on the Internet in late 1999, enraging the film industry because it feared the software would allow illegal copying of its films.

The three-member Oslo City Court found Johansen, now 19 and a household name as DVD-Jon in Norway, innocent on all counts in a unanimous 25-page ruling in the latest setback for the film industry's drive to prevent film copying.

"I'm very satisfied. We won support on all points. I had figured that we could win, but it can go either way," said Johansen after the verdict was read out.

The prosecution said it would decide in the next two weeks whether to appeal. Johansen said he expects another round because this is the first such case in Norway. "But clearly, winning the first round means a lot," said Johansen after the verdict. Prosecutors had called for a 90-day suspended jail sentence, confiscation of computer equipment, and court costs, all of which were rejected in the ruling.

Johansen became a folk hero to hackers, especially in the U.S., where a battle still rages over a 1998 copyright law that bans software like DeCSS.

The film industry developed the Content Scrambling System to encrypt and prevent illegal copying of DVD films. However, the system, usually called CSS, also prevents DVD films from being played on unauthorized equipment.

Johansen's program, which pieces together security codes and other programs sent to him by fellow hackers, breaks the CSS barrier, allowing films to be played and copied on computers. The short program is one of many readily available programs that can break DVD security codes.

In January 2000, the U.S. Motion Picture Association and the DVD Copy Control Association filed a complaint with the Norwegian economic crime police against Johansen. Prosecutors later charged Johansen under Norway's data break-in laws and for being an accessory to others making illegal copies of films by posting his program on the Internet. Johansen had claimed he posted the program for others to test it.

Head judge Irene Sogn, in reading the verdict, said no one could be convicted of breaking into their own property, and that there was no proof that Johansen or others had used the program to access illegal pirate copies of films.

"The court finds that someone who buys a DVD film that has been legally produced has legal access the film. Something else would apply if the film had been an illegal ... pirate copy," the ruling said. It found that consumers have rights to legally obtained DVD films "even if the films are played in a different way than the makers had foreseen."

Johansen said that was the key part of the ruling. "As long as you have purchased a DVD legally then you are allowed to decode it with any equipment, and can't be forced to buy any specific equipment," he said.


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