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DVD-Jon wins new legal victory

Norway’s most famous computer whiz got an early Christmas present on Monday. An appeals court in Oslo upheld Jon Lech Johansen’s earlier acquittal on all counts of alleged copyright violations.

‘DVD-Jon’ Lech Johansen is older and even wiser now than he was when he helped create a decrypting program that he’s defended ever since.

A verdict in the case, which has caught international attention, wasn’t expected until early January. But the appeals court (Borgarting lagmannsrett)apparently didn’t see any need to wait with its decision.

A panel of judges Monday cast aside the appeal that prosecutors had filed to a lower court decision handed down in January. That means the lower court’s decision will stand, at least until another eventual appeal takes the case to Norway’s supreme court.

The lower court had ruled that Johansen, now 20, did nothing illegal when he helped crack DVD copy protection codes in 1999 and then publicized how he did it. The prosecution had sought a suspended jail term, confiscation of his computer equipment and a fine of NOK 20,000 (less than USD 3,000).

Prosecutors had put Johansen back on trial earlier this month for his role in creating a software solution that removes copy protection from DVD films. He was dubbed “DVD-Jon” after he helped crack the copy protection code as a teenager and then published it on the Internet.

He became an instant hero to those who finally could watch DVD films on their computers instead of being forced to buy expensive DVD players, but he incurred the fury of some of the biggest players in the entertainment industry. It all turned into a classic “David and Goliath” situation, with Johansen ultimately facing prosecution by Norway’s white-collar crime unit Oekokrim.

In January, Johansen won. An Oslo court cleared him of all charges that his role in creating the so-called “DeCSS” program was a violation of copyright and an invitation to wide-scale piracy.

Prosecutors appealed the verdict, only to be knocked down once again by the higher court.

The new ruling was made by a panel of three professional judges backed up by four lay judges, two of whom had technical expertise relevant to the case.

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