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Hollywood didn’t get its happy ending Tuesday when a Norwegian court acquitted a teen-ager of digital burglary charges for creating and circulating online a program that cracks the security codes on DVDs. The ruling, a blow to the entertainment industry’s drive to curtail illegal copying of its movies, was a key test in how far copyright holders can go in preventing duplication of their intellectual property. Jon Lech Johansen, who was 15 when he developed and posted the program on the Internet in late 1999, said he developed the software only to watch movies on a Linux-based computer that lacked DVD-viewing software. “I’m extremely satisfied,” said Johansen, who sat placidly in the courtroom with his family and computer enthusiasts as the verdict was read. “Most of those who have watched the case from the outside have said nothing criminal happened.” Johansen, now 19, said he would celebrate by watching DVDs using similar DVD-cracking software. Head Judge Irene Sogn said people cannot be convicted of breaking into their own property. Sogn said prosecutors failed to prove 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 to the film. Something else would apply if the film had been an illegal … pirate copy,” the three-member Oslo City Court said in a unanimous 25-page ruling. The Motion Picture Association of America, which had encouraged the prosecution, had no comment, spokeswoman Phuong Yokitis said from Washington. The decision was only the latest setback for the entertainment industry in its efforts to discourage the digital distribution of its wares. Last week, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor lifted an emergency stay that prohibited the posting of similar DVD decryption programs on the Internet. And last March, a Dutch appeals court cleared copyright-infringement charges against KaZaA, a maker of computer software that lets people download music, movies and other copyright-protected material. Jonathan Zittrain, a Harvard University law professor who studies the Internet, doubted Tuesday’s decision would discourage the entertainment industry’s anti-piracy campaign. “The fight over Johansen’s program, DeCSS, was always more a symbolic fight,” Zittrain said. “This is not the literal code that millions of Americans would use to copy Hollywood’s treasures.” Nonetheless, the ruling signals that Hollywood cannot tell buyers of its products how they can be used, said Robin Gross of IP Justice, an organization that promotes more balance in applying intellectual property laws. “Now the people are beginning to say ‘Hey, wait a minute! We have some say in this,’” she said. “These are our DVDs and if we want to watch them on computers using the Linux operating system, we are well within our rights to do that.” Johansen became a folk hero to hackers, especially in the United States, where a battle still rages over a 1998 copyright law that bans such software. The short program Johansen wrote is just one of many readily available programs that can break the film industry’s Content Scrambling System, which prevents illegal copying but also prevents the use of legitimate copies on unauthorized equipment. Charges against Johansen were filed after Norwegian prosecutors received a complaint from the MPAA and the DVD Copy Control Association, the group that licenses CSS. Prosecutors asserted that the program, in effect, left film studios’ property unlocked and open for theft. The prosecution charged Johansen with data break-in, rather than copyright infringement. Although the decision is legally binding only in Norway, it “will be referred to in other cases because there have not been many,” said Haakon Wium Lie, a member of the Electronic Frontier Norway. The prosecution, which had called for a 90-day suspended jail sentence, confiscation of computer equipment and court costs, said it would decide in the next two weeks whether to appeal. The ruling found that consumers have rights to view legally obtained DVD films “even if the films are played in a different way than the makers had foreseen.” Johansen said that was key. “As long as you have purchased a DVD legally,” he said, “then you are allowed to decode it with any equipment and can’t be forced to buy any specific equipment.” Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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