Scientists Take Recording Industry to Court

In a bold move, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has filed a lawsuit in federal court to protect the First Amendment rights of Princeton University Professor Edward Felten and his team of scientists. Felten intended to publish academic findings detailing the successful circumvention of digital audio copyright technologies. A coalition of the RIAA, SDMI, and Verance, sought to prevent public disclosure of the research. The court will decide whether Felten's team may present details of the study at the USENIX Security Conference in August.

The EFF calls into question the constitutionality of a clause in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) prohibiting the publication of methods to bypass security controls in digital media. In a letter to Professor Felten, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI) threatened legal action if the results were made public. But the research community maintains that mathematics and code are not circumvention devices and thus do not violate any laws.

Felten and his team answered a challenge put forth last September by the SDMI to hack the initiative's audio watermark technology. The watermarks, including one developed by Verance, help to prevent unauthorized distribution of copyrighted works. Ironically, the hacking contest was intended to advance the technology by exposing any potential flaws.

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"Studying digital access technologies and publishing the research for our colleagues are both fundamental to the progress of science and academic freedom," stated Professor Felten in today's press release. "The recording industry's interpretation of the DMCA would make scientific progress on this important topic illegal."

Attempts to protect copyrights have collided with the longstanding notion of open access to research. If victorious, the EFF hopes to further scientific freedom and use the ruling to overturn anti-distribution provisions of the DMCA.

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