Princeton Scientists Sue Over Squelched Research
Trenton, NJ -- The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) today asked a federal court to rule that Princeton University Professor Edward Felten and his research team have a First Amendment right to present their research on digital music access-control technologies at the USENIX Security Conference this August in Washington, DC, despite threats from the recording industry.
When scientists from Princeton University and Rice University tried to publish their findings in April 2001, the recording industry claimed that the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) makes it illegal to discuss or provide technology that might be used to bypass industry controls limiting how consumers can use music they have purchased.
Like most scientists, the researchers want to discuss their findings and publish a scientific paper about the vulnerabilities of several technologies they studied. Open discussion of music customer control technologies has resulted in improved technology and enhanced consumer choice.
"Studying digital access technologies and publishing the research for our colleagues are both fundamental to the progress of science and academic freedom," stated Princeton scientist Edward Felten. "The recording industry's interpretation of the DMCA would make scientific progress on this important topic illegal."
Felten's research team includes Princeton University scientists and plaintiffs Bede Liu, Scott Craver, and Min Wu. Also members of the research team and plaintiffs are Rice University researchers Dan Wallach, Ben Swartzlander, and Adam Stubblefield. Another scientist and plaintiff is Drew Dean, who is employed in the Silicon Valley. The USENIX Assocation has joined the case as a plaintiff.
The prominent scientist and his research team originally planned to publish the paper in April at the 4th International Information Hiding Workshop. However, the scientists withdrew the paper at the last minute because the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI) Foundation threatened litigation against Felten, his research team, and the relevant universities and conference organizers.
SDMI sponsored the "SDMI Public Challenge" in September 2000, asking Netizens to try to break their favored watermark schemes, designed to control consumer access to digital music. When the scientists' paper about their successful defeat of the watermarks, including one developed by a company called Verance, was accepted for publication, Matt Oppenheim, an officer of both RIAA and SDMI, sent the Princeton professor a letter threatening legal liability if the scientist published his results.
EFF filed the legal challenge in New Jersey federal court against RIAA, SDMI, Verance, and the U.S. Justice Department so that the researchers need not fear prosecution under DMCA for publishing their research.
"When scientists are intimidated from publishing their work, there is a clear First Amendment problem," said EFF's Legal Director Cindy Cohn. "We have long argued that unless properly limited, the anti-distribution provisions of the DMCA would interfere with science. Now they plainly have."
"Mathematics and code are not circumvention devices," explained Jim Tyre, an attorney on the legal team, "so why is the recording industry trying to prevent these researchers from publishing?"
USENIX Executive Director Ellie Young commented, "We cannot stand idly by as USENIX members are prevented from discussing and publishing the results of legitimate research."
EFF is challenging the constitutionality of the anti-distribution provisions of the DMCA as part of its ongoing Campaign for Audiovisual Free Expression (CAFE). The CAFE campaign fights over-reaching intellectual property laws and restrictive technologies that threaten free speech in the digital age. "The recording studios want to control how consumers can use the music they buy. Now they want to control scientists and publishers, to prevent consumers from finding out how to bypass the unpopular controls," said EFF Staff Attorney Robin Gross.
Media professionals have been invited to attend a June 6 press conference and simultaneous teleconference on the Felten case featuring the legal team and Professor Felten.
The legal team includes EFF attorneys Lee Tien, Cindy Cohn, and Robin Gross. Outside lead counsel Gino Scarselli, argued the Junger case where the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that computer code is creative expression worthy of First Amendment protection. Also members of the legal team are James Tyre, a technology savvy lawyer from Southern California who co-founded the Censorware Project and wrote an amicus brief in Universal v. Reimerdes, and Joe Liu, a Professor of Law at Boston College. Local counsel in New Jersey are First Amendment specialists Frank Corrado of Rossi, Barry, Corrado, Grassi and Radell, and Grayson Barber, chair of the ACLU-NJ privacy committee.
For more background on Professor Felten and his team's legal challenge:
For EFF's legal filing in the Felten case:
RIAA/SDMI letter threatening Professor Felten and his team:
Professor Felten's website:
Listen to an audio file about EFF's legal challenge to SDMI (MP3):
For more information on the August USENIX Security conference:
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 Web sites in the world: http://www.eff.org/
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: http://www.usenix.org/