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Alleged DVD hacker pleads not guilty

Norwegian teen Jon Johansen denies charges of illegally making software that unlocks the security codes of copy-protected DVDs.

A Norwegian teenager pleaded not guilty Monday to charges of illegally making software that copies movies, in a landmark case seen as a battle between cyber-Davids and corporate Goliaths.

Jon Johansen, known in Norway as "DVD Jon," is charged with helping to crack a code and develop and distribute a program--known as DeCSS--on the Internet that enables users to make unauthorized copies of DVD movies.

Prosecutor Inger Marie Sunde told an Oslo court that Johansen worked with people in Germany, the Netherlands, Britain, Russia and the United States on making and publishing the program in 1999 and 2000, when he was 15 and 16 years old.

"It's been seen as a fight of David against Goliath--a 15- to 16-year-old who took on the U.S. movie industry," Sunde told the court. "But his acts are clearly illegal."

Judge Irene Sogn, flanked by two experts, will hear the case against Johansen, now 19. The trial is due to last five days. If convicted, Johansen could face up to two years in jail or be ordered to pay fines or compensation.

Major Hollywood studios, which code DVDs to prevent unauthorized copying, have already taken legal action against several people in the United States who displayed the DeCSS program, allegedly developed by Johansen, on their Web Sites.

U.S. and Canadian DVD and video sales totaled an estimated $20 billion this year. Hollywood says unauthorized copying of DVDs is stealing copyright material.

Some 5,000 copies of DeCSS are thought to have been downloaded from the Web in the months after it was made available in 1999, prompting the U.S. Motion Picture Association (MBA), representing Hollywood, to file a complaint in Norway.

DeCSS is one of many programs available on the Internet to break DVD protection codes.

Johansen--who told the court he now earns $4,851 (35,000 crowns) a month as a computer program developer--has become a symbol for hackers worldwide who say making software such as DeCSS is an exercise of intellectual freedom.

Story Copyright  © 2002 Reuters Limited.  All rights reserved.