Teen Cleared in DVD Piracy Case

From Times staff and wires

In a legal setback for Hollywood, a Norwegian court Tuesday acquitted a teenager accused of violating computer- security laws with a program he wrote to unscramble the encryption on DVD movies.

Jon Lech Johansen developed the "DeCSS" program, which circumvents the Content Scrambling System on DVDs, when he was 15. He said he wanted to play movies he owned on a computer running the Linux operating system, which couldn't unscramble the DVDs.

Norwegian prosecutors had brought charges against Johansen at the behest of film-industry officials, who accused the youth of encouraging piracy. But head judge Irene Sogn of the Oslo City Court, in reading the verdict absolving Johansen, said no one could be convicted of breaking into his own property.

The ruling was the second acquittal in recent weeks for computer programmers whose software circumvented the electronic locks on copyrighted works.

A federal jury in San Jose last month rejected charges brought against ElcomSoft Co., a Russian software firm that developed and briefly sold a program that picked the locks on some electronic books.

The studios have fared better in U.S. civil cases, winning a ruling in 2001 that bars Web sites from posting the DeCSS code.

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