A Norwegian criminal court today acquitted Jon Johannsen, a Norwegian teenager who faced criminal charges for helping to write and publish a DVD descrambling program. Johansen used the program called DeCSS to watch his own DVDs on his Linux computer. After a request from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the Norwegian Economic Crime Unit (ØKOKRIM) had charged Jon Johansen for unscrambling DVDs using DeCSS in 1999 when he was 15 years old.
"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 Electronic Frontier Foundation (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."
EFF assisted Jon in locating Norwegian counsel and setting up a defense fund.
"The court has made a very solid legal and factual ruling," noted Halvor Manshaus of the Norwegian law firm Schjødt, who represented Johansen in the case. "It helped tremendously that the lead judge was assisted by two expert judges who are computer specialists."
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.
Johansen's prosecution marks the first time the Norwegian government has attempted to punish individuals for accessing their own property. Previously, the government used this law to prosecute only individuals who violated someone else's secure system, like a bank or telephone company system, in order to obtain another person's records.
The three-member Oslo City Court unanimously ruled to acquit Johansen. The 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 ØKOKRIM prosecutors to request a criminal investigation of the Norwegian teen and his father, Per Johansen, who owned the equipment on which the DeCSS software was stored. The charges against Johansen's father were later dropped.