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The protests had an immediate effect. Adobe withdrew its support for the case, and eventually the U.S. attorney dropped all charges against Sklyarov on the condition that he testify in the subsequent prosecution of his employers, which he did. In December 2002, the jury in that case acquitted Elcomsoft.
Johansen was acquitted a bit more than a year later. A judge concluded that the charges against him were inappropriate, since the law under which he was arrested had nothing to do with digital rights management. Johansen still writes free software, including programs that subvert digital rights management technologies.
Although these prosecutions fizzled, that does not mean the equation of software with free speech is widely accepted in the legal system. Most of the other DeCSS lawsuits were decided between 2001 and 2004, and even though the courts were persuaded that DeCSS was a form of speech, they consistently ruled that it nonetheless violated the copyright protections of artistic material. In one of the 2600 cases, Universal City Studios Inc. v. Corley, U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan went so far as to declare that he aimed to “contribute to a climate of appropriate respect for intellectual property rights in an age in which the excitement of ready access to untold quantities of information has blurred in some minds the fact that taking what is not yours and not freely offered to you is stealing.”
Developers and hackers were deeply disappointed by these decisions, which essentially equated DeCSS with theft. But by continuing to create a separate cultural reality, even a rival liberal morality, in which expression and autonomy are elevated above the potential for piracy, these outsiders are constructing a broader legal regime that will eventually challenge the way we interpret the Constitution.
Today new copyright legislation threatens online freedoms and free expression. But while the Digital Millennium Copyright Act passed in 1998 with almost no public outcry, critics prevented the Stop Online Piracy Act from passing in 2012. Legislative support waned amid fierce opposition from the technology community, which included open source developers, corporate giants such as Google, protest groups such as Anonymous, and digital rights organizations. Threats may loom larger today than they did a decade ago, but advocates and institutions are better prepared to respond more effectively and swiftly than before.