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Teen Acquitted In DeCSS Case

7 Jan, 2003 By: Holly J. Wagner

A Norwegian criminal court today acquitted teenager Jon Johansen, who faced criminal charges for helping to write and publish the DeCSS DVD descrambling program, according to consumer advocate group the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

"The Norwegian court has recognized that Jon has the right to take the steps necessary to view his own DVDs on his own computers," said EFF legal director Cindy Cohn. "Johansen's acquittal, along with that of Russian company Elcomsoft in the U.S. last month, will hopefully convince Hollywood to stop filing unfounded charges in cases where there is no copyright infringement."

But the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), which initially prompted the Norwegian Economic Crime Unit (?KOKRIM) to charge Johansen, didn't see it that way.

“We understand that the prosecution in Norway is reviewing whether to take an appeal and we support that consideration,” said an MPAA statement. “We look forward to reviewing the court's decision in greater detail.”

The studio lobby group requested the charges after Johansen unscrambled DVDs using DeCSS in 1999, when he was 15 years old, to watch his own DVDs on a Linux computer.

Johansen was charged with violating the Norwegian Criminal Code section 145(2), which outlaws breaking into another person's locked property to gain access to data that no one is entitled to access. Previously, the government used this law to prosecute only individuals who violated someone else's secure system, like a bank or telephone company system, to get another person's records, Cohn said. EFF helped the youth find Norwegian counsel and set up a defense fund on his behalf.

"The court has made a very solid legal and factual ruling," noted Halvor Manshaus of the Norwegian law firm Schjødt, who represented Johansen. "It helped tremendously that the lead judge was assisted by two expert judges who are computer specialists."

The three-member Oslo City Court unanimously ruled to acquit Johansen. Norwegian prosecutors have said they will decide within two weeks whether to appeal the verdict.

Johansen's indictment came more than two years after the MPAA initially contacted ?KOKRIM prosecutors to request a criminal investigation of the teen and his father, Per Johansen, who owned the equipment on which the DeCSS software was stored. The charges against the elder Johansen were later dropped.

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