CBSN

Hacker Hero And Hollywood Nemesis

Jon Lech Johansen and his father Per field phone calls and emails in this January 25, 2000 file photo in Steinsholt, Norway.
AP (file)
A Norwegian teenager pleaded innocent Monday to breaking data security laws in the first day of a trial over a program that unlocks the security codes of DVDs.

Jon Lech Johansen was 15 when he wrote and distributed without charge on the Internet a program that unlocked copy-protected DVDs, giving Hollywood nightmares and making him a folk hero among hackers.

Johansen, now 19, expressed confidence heading into the trial, saying "We are right" and that most people agree, except for "the economic crime police and the film industry."

The proceedings in Oslo District Court are expected to last five days, with a verdict a few weeks later. If convicted, Johansen could be sentenced to up to two years in prison, fines and compensation.

Johansen has said he was sent the security codes from outside Norway by other members of a hacker network, and that he only combined them into a program so he could watch DVDs on his Linux-based computer, which lacked such software.

Called DeCSS, the program compromised an industry-developed software scheme called the Content Scrambling System - usually called CSS - that was designed to prevent unauthorized duplication.

But DeCSS also lets people copy and share DVD files on the Internet.

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

Prosecutor Inger Marie Sunde, in her opening remarks, compared the hacker group to an international crime network "with Jon Johansen and his friends on the Internet from Germany, the Netherlands, England and Russia."

Charges were filed after Norwegian prosecutors received a complaint from the Motion Picture Association of America.

Johansen's attorney, Halvor Manshaus, said the teen cannot be convicted of breaking into a DVD that he bought and legally owned, and that "Johansen did not break the security code."

However, prosecutors agreed that Johansen's program, in effect, left film studios' property unlocked and open for theft.

The prosecution decided to charge Johansen with a data break-in, rather than handle the matter as a copyright case.

By Doug Mellgren