BERLIN — Two young German computer hackers allegedly stole pop songs from Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake, Ke$ha and Kelly Clarkson, selling them online and forcing the advanced release of several singles, officials said Friday.
An 18-year-old high school student from Duisburg, and his alleged accomplice, a 23-year-old unemployed man from Wesel, are under investigation for using a Trojan Horse to hack into the artists' computers for about 12 months before being discovered, Duisburg chief prosecutor Rolf Haferkamp told The Associated Press.
During that time, they earned more than euro10,000 ($13,240) in illegal sales of tracks acquired from the stars' computers. Haferkamp would not comment on specific songs that were stolen.
Both men live with their parents in the western German cities, which are about 20 miles (30 kilometers) apart.
Reached at his home the 18-year-old, an amateur disc jockey known as "DJ Stolen" whose name has been reported in the German media as Deniz A., told the AP he had been out of touch with his alleged accomplice, Christian M.
"I haven't heard from him for a while," he said.
Deniz A., who is a German citizen of Turkish origin, refused to comment on the case or give any further details, saying his attorney had told him not to speak with the media.
According to local media reports, the two had attached the Trojan to an MP3 file that was then sent to the official addresses of the stars, their managers and their record companies.
Deniz A. also allegedly downloaded a sexually compromising photo of one artist and used it to blackmail her. Haferkamp would not comment on which artist it was.
The lawyer for Deniz A., Burkhard Benecken, told the AP he had only taken on the case Thursday and not yet seen the police and court files of his client.
He said he talked to Deniz A. for an hour Thursday and that his client had told police that he had "made mistakes." He stopped short of saying Deniz A. had fully confessed, as had been reported by local media.
"Definitely, my client made some mistakes and he has already told police that," Benecken said. "However, I'm convinced that he is not that big blackmailer that everybody is trying to depict him as now – that's way over the top."
The lawyer described Deniz A. as a self-acclaimed DJ and big music fan, especially of R&B music.
"When you first see him, he seems so innocent and young that you would absolutely not expect him to do anything of such far-reaching impact," Benecken said.
Benecken said Deniz A. told him he decided to stop selling the illegally downloaded music on his own accord six months ago.
Benecken characterized the entire hacking case as "ultramodern" and said that, in a way, it exemplified the "downside" of today's digital age "that can easily been taken advantage of by savvy youths with those skills and a lot of time."
"Deniz told me that he felt like being in a movie – I think sometimes young people can't really differentiate between imagination and reality," Benecken said.
Before he was reached by the AP, Germany's top-selling Bild newspaper quoted Deniz A. as saying he didn't mean to do any harm.
"I'm a fan and I just wanted to have cool music," he was quoted by the newspaper as saying. "I'm no blackmailer."
Haferkamp said the police were informed of the hacking after a fan of Kelly Clarkson alerted her management that unreleased songs of the singer were being sold online.
A Duisburg police spokesman, speaking on departmental condition of anonymity, said that the two had been under investigation for "several months" and that authorities had a 1,000-page file on them.
Haferkamp said the investigation should be concluded by January and can lead to criminal charges. If convicted, they could be sentenced to up to five years in prison or face stiff fines for damages.
Clarkson and Ke$ha are represented by RCA, and Timberlake is represented by Jive, both subsidiaries of Sony. Sony Germany had no immediate comment.
Jive spokeswoman Wendy Washington said in an e-mailed response that "in light of the fact that this is an ongoing legal investigation, the label has no comment."
Lady Gaga is represented by Universal Music. Her manager in Germany did not immediately return requests for comment.
Kirsten Grieshaber contributed to this story.