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Home » Hacking News » Teen Hacker, Hollywood Nemesis, on Trial

Teen Hacker, Hollywood Nemesis, on Trial

by Nikola Strahija on December 9th, 2002 Jon Lech Johansen was only 15 when he wrote and distributed on the Internet for free a program that unlocked copy-protected DVDs, giving Hollywood nightmares and making him a folk hero among hackers. Three years later, he's going on trial in an important test case for Norway's strict laws against computer piracy and hacking.

The proceedings begin Monday in Oslo District Court and are expected to last five days, with Johansen taking the stand. But whatever the trial's outcome, the digital copycat is well out of the bag.

The short program Johansen wrote is only one of many easily available programs that can break DVD security codes. One is included in a software package, sold by a U.S. company, that even burns DVDs after cracking the copy protection.

Johansen has refused to talk to reporters ahead of his trial. But his defense attorney, Halvor Manshaus, said the teenager has done nothing wrong, having only written a small program using security-breaking code developed and sent to him by others.

Under the law, Johansen could be sentenced to up to two years in prison, fines and compensation, although few expect the teen to do any prison time.

The charges were filed after Norwegian prosecutors received a complaint from the Motion Picture Association of America, which represents the major Hollywood studios.

The prosecutors agreed with the movie industry that Johansen's program, in effect, left their property unlocked and open for theft. Called DeCSS (news - web sites), it compromised an industry-developed software scheme called the Content Scrambling System — usually called CSS(**— that was designed to prevent unauthorized duplication.

Johansen has said he wanted only to watch DVDs on his Linux (news - web sites)-based computer, which lacked the DVD-viewing software of Windows and Macintosh (news - web sites) users. However, DeCSS also lets people copy and share DVD files on the Internet, thus allowing others to obtain movies for free.

"The access was a violation because the DVD films were sold on the condition that the user would use authorized playing equipment and respect the copy protection," the indictment says.

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