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Hacker says he has cracked iTunes code

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- A hacker known for cracking the copy-protection technology in DVDs says he has unlocked the playback restrictions of Apple Computer Inc.'s iPod and iTunes music products and plans to license his code to others.

The move by Jon Lech Johansen, also known as "DVD Jon," could pit the 22-year-old against Apple's lawyers, experts say, but if successful could free users from some restrictions Apple and its rivals place on digital music.

Currently , songs purchased from Apple's online iTunes Music Store can't be played on portable devices made by other companies. Songs purchased from many other online music stores won't work on iPods because they similarly use a form of copy-protection that Apple doesn't support.

Johansen said he has developed a way to get around those restrictions. But unlike with his previous work, which he usually posts for free, the Norway native plans to capitalize on his efforts through his Redwood Shores-based DoubleTwist Ventures, said the company's only other employee, managing director Monique Farantzos.

An unnamed client will soon use the technology so its copy-protected content will be playable on iPods, she said, declining to give details.

"There's a certain amount of trouble that Apple can give us, but not enough to stop this," Farantzos said yesterday .

Apple spokeswoman Kristin Huguet said the company did not want to comment.

Fred von Lohmann, a staff attorney at the privacy-advocacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation, said Johansen is treading carefully this time, but isn't necessarily cleared from a legal fight.

"There is a lot of untested legal ground surrounding reverse engineering," he said.

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