August 14, 2001

EFF: Scientists support professor's copyright law challenge

Author: JT Smith

Seventeen of the world's top scientists today
supported Princeton University Professor Edward Felten
and his research team's challenge to the Digital Millennium
Copyright Act (DMCA) on free speech grounds. Prominent
academics, cryptographers, software programmers, and
scientific conference organizers explained to a federal
court the stifling effects of the DMCA on scientific
research and freedom of expression.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) represents the
research team in a lawsuit filed June 6 asking a federal
judge to declare that the scientists have a First Amendment
right to publish their research both at the USENIX
Conference in Washington, DC, and elsewhere. USENIX,
fearful of threats that had been made against the
organizers of the prior conference, has joined the suit,
and plans to webcast the presentation of the paper on
August 15.

In his latest declaration to the court, Professor Felten
explained, "I understand that Defendants advocate an
interpretation of the DMCA that would outlaw analysis of
systems that might be used to control the use of
copyrighted materials.... such an interpretation would
effectively prevent analysis of critical systems, and so
would have a disastrous effect on education, research, and
practice in computer security."

He further commented, "Not only in computer science, but
also across all scientific fields, skeptical analysis of
technical claims made by others, and the presentation of
detailed evidence to support such analysis, is the heart
of the scientific method. To outlaw such analysis is to
outlaw the scientific method itself."

The case arose after scientists from Princeton University,
Rice University, and Xerox tried to publish research that
reveals flaws in the recording industry's control systems
for digital music at an April 2001 conference. The
recording industry claimed that a 1998 law called the
DMCA prohibited the presentation of the research paper.
In a series of e-mails and conference calls to the
researchers, their universities, and conference organizers,
recording industry attorneys intimidated the researchers
into withdrawing their paper from the April conference.
Hours after the paper was withdrawn, representatives of
the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)
issued a press release claiming that they had never
intended to prevent scientific speech.

Last month, the RIAA asked the court to dismiss the current
lawsuit after sending a letter to the court stating that
it would allow the conference to go forward, so no case or
controversy exists for the court to decide. The EFF legal
filing today rebuts that claim and reveals the chilling
effect felt throughout the scientific community since
Congress passed the DMCA and the recording industry started
threatening researchers.

In legal declarations supporting the researchers,
scientists worldwide expressed concern about traveling to
the United States, where the FBI has already arrested
and jailed a programmer for allegedly writing software or
conducting research that could help someone use a
copyrighted work in ways disallowed by the publisher.

Niels Ferguson, a prominent Dutch cryptographer who
recently discovered major flaws in a commercial
high-definition video system, told the court, "Despite the
fact that I performed all the work in Amsterdam, I could
face arrest if I visit the US after my research had found
its way into the jurisdiction. My research is silenced
since I cannot talk about my scientific results to my
colleagues and peers, as is now the case since the DMCA
became law in the US. Scientific freedom is not only
threatened under this law, it is demonstrably curtailed."

The DMCA prohibits providing information that other people
may use to circumvent the technological protection measures
placed on digital files. In this case, the recording
industry developed watermark technologies to help control
how consumers can use digital music.

Professor Felten's team discovered that it was easy to
circumvent the technologies.

"The recording industry has done untold damage by
their threats to Felten and the other researchers, their
universities, and the conference organizers. The resulting
chilling effect on the broader scientific community
continues unabated," said Robin Gross, intellectual
property attorney for EFF. "We on the Felten legal team
will work to ensure that industry can no longer use the
DMCA to threaten freedom of speech and scientific

EFF's response to the RIAA's motion to dismiss,
including the supporting declarations and more background
on the legal challenge:

RIAA's motion to dismiss the case:

RIAA/SDMI April 2001 letter threatening Professor Felten
and his team:

Professor Felten's website:

Listen to an audio file of the press conference held when
the case was launched [MP3]:

For more information on the August USENIX Security

About EFF:

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is the leading civil
liberties organization working to protect rights in the
digital world. Founded in 1990, EFF actively encourages and
challenges industry and government to support free
expression, privacy, and openness in the information
society. EFF is a member-supported organization and
maintains one of the most linked-to websites in the world:


The USENIX Association, an organization representing some
10,000 computer research scientists is dedicated to the
free exchange of scholarly information through its many
conferences and publications. See its website at:

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