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Saturday, December 14, 2002
Trial of Norwegian DVD buster extended after last-minute change in charges


The trial of a Norwegian teenager whose DVD cracking program gave Hollywood a bigger fright than a scary movie was extended by one day until Monday. The trial, which was to have ended Friday, was extended because the prosecution made minor, last-minute changes in the wording of the indictment.

Jon Lech Johansen, 19, pleaded not guilty to charges of violating computer security laws when the trial started Monday. He wrote the program, called DeCSS, as a 15-year-old and distributed it free of charge in October 1999 on the Internet.

``Like anything else, DeCSS can be used for illegal goals,'' Johansen said this week in the Oslo District Court. ``Just like you can make copies with a regular CD-burner and sell them.''

The program cracks security codes the film industry developed for DVDs to prevent unauthorized copying and distribution that could cost them millions of dollars a year. Such programs are now readily available on the commercial market.

Johansen became a hero to computer hackers, especially in the United States, and was vilified by the film industry.

If convicted, Johansen, known throughout Norway as ``DVD Jon,'' could face up to two years in prison, plus fines and compensation.

However, few expect the teen to face jail time in the first case in which a Norwegian has been charged with breaking into a product that they already own. A verdict is expected within a few weeks.

DeCSS 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 prosecutors, acting on a complaint from the Motion Picture Association of America, argued that the program, in effect, left film studios' property unlocked and open for theft. They decided to test Norway's data security laws instead of pursuing a copyright case.

Defense attorney Halvor Manshaus said Johansen only used the program to view DVDs he already owned, likening it to a person opening his own mail.

Johansen said he was sent the security codes by anonymous members of an Internet group, and combined them into a program so he could watch his DVDs on his Linux-based computer. The computer didn't have the software needed to watch the discs, unlike computers that run Windows or Macintosh operating systems. He said the program was posted online so it could be tested.

``I'm sure the court will find that the film industry doesn't have any right to dictate what equipment I, as a consumer, can use to watch their films,'' Johansen said in court Tuesday.

However, police prosecutor Inger Marie Sunde said, ``It is not a Linux player he has made. It only works in Windows.''

Sunde portrayed Johansen as the manipulative controller of a network of Internet hackers working to illegally copy films and music.

``There is a limit to what a 15-year-old boy sitting in his room can get up to,'' countered Manshaus. ``Johansen has done nothing more than gain access to films he already bought.''


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