A young Norwegian who became a global hacker hero by writing and distributing a program to crack DVD security codes appears to have struck again, this time against Apple Computer Inc.'s iTunes online music service.
Jon Lech Johansen, 19, faces a new trial that starts Tuesday after prosecutors appealed his January acquittal on charges that he violated Norway's data break-in laws with his DeCSS program for DVDs.
Last Friday, a new security-cracking program called QTFairUse was posted — along with the message "So sue me" — on a Web site for which Johansen is listed as the registrant, or owner.
The new program circumvents iTunes' anti-copying program, MPEG-4 Advanced Audio Coding, by legally opening and playing a protected music file in QuickTime, but then, essentially, draining the unprotected music data into a new and parallel file.
There are other programs that can circumvent copy protection schemes by capturing analog audio, though that typically causes a loss in quality.
The program on Johansen's site appears to capture unprotected digital data, which could be used to make perfect copies of an unlocked tune.
The program also is published as open source software. Others can use it and improve upon it, provided they make their work freely available to others.
QTFairUse then could be used as the foundation of other programs. In its current form, the software leaves the unprotected music data in a form that is unplayable without additional software.
Johansen could not immediately be reached for comment. The Oslo newspaper Aftenposten said he was traveling in France. An Apple spokeswoman did not immediately return a call Wednesday seeking comment.
Johansen, also known as DVD Jon, was 15 when he developed DeCSS to watch movies on a Linux-based computer without DVD-viewing software, posting it on the Internet in 1999.
The program is just one of many that can break the film industry's Content Scrambling System, which prevents illegal copying and blocks the use of legitimate copies on unauthorized equipment.
Prosecutors charged Johansen last year after a complaint from the Motion Picture Association of America and the DVD Copy Control Association, the group that licenses CSS.
He was acquitted Jan. 7 by the Oslo District Court, which said Johansen could not be convicted of breaking into DVD films he legally owned, or of providing a tool others might use to copy films illegally.
Since the case was the first of its kind in Norway, and a key test in determining how far existing laws protect copyright holders, prosecutors used their right to appeal to a higher court.