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Thursday, 7 June, 2001, 13:26 GMT 14:26 UK
Legal challenge to US piracy law
Scientists want to be free to show how digital music can be unlocked
The music industry is accused of stifling academics
By BBC News Online technology correspondent Mark Ward

The US recording industry is being sued on behalf of scientists who want to show how easy it is to defeat technology used to protect music against piracy.

Before now the researchers have been reluctant to publish information following legal warnings from music industry groups.

The US recently passed laws that make it an offence to pass on information that could help people evade copyright restrictions.

But the scientists say the new laws are an unconstitutional restriction of free speech and academic freedom.

Secure sounds

In late 2000 the US music industry set off a competition to test the technology it wanted to use to protect pop music from unlicenced distribution on the web

The competition was run by the Secure Digital Music Initiative - a body created to oversee the development of pirate-proof technology. The SDMI invited computer experts to see if they could defeat the systems it was planning to use.

One academic group, headed by Prof Edward Felten at Princeton, successfully cracked several of the SDMI's protection systems.

However, legal warnings by the Recording Industry Association of America and the SDMI have, until now, prevented the researchers from talking about their work and exposing the shortcomings of the technology.

Mr Felten and his colleagues, who included researchers from Rice University and an employee of the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, managed to crack five of the six technologies the SDMI put up for testing.

Before the legal warnings, the group originally planned to present its findings at an Information Hiding Conference in April.

Record restrictions

The warnings were made under the terms of the United States' Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which makes it an offence for people to circulate information that could help others get round copyright protection systems. The DMCA passed into US law in 1998.

Now the Electronic Frontier Foundation has filed a lawsuit on behalf of the scientists saying that the act breaches freedom of speech laws and stifles academic freedom because it effectively forces the researchers to ask permission before publishing results of legitimate research.

The lawsuit has been filed against the RIAA, the SDMI development group, the US Justice Department and technology company Verance who developed some of the watermarking technology Felten and his colleagues investigated.

The EFF wants Mr Felten to be allowed to talk about his research in public and also wants parts of the DMCA act torn up.

If the academics win their case they will present their findings at another conference in August.

A statement issued by the RIAA described the lawsuit as "inexplicable" and said it never had any intention of bringing a lawsuit against Mr Felten and his colleagues.

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See also:

25 Apr 01 | Sci/Tech
Security through censorship
11 Nov 00 | Sci/Tech
Pop goes protecting pop
01 May 01 | Sci/Tech
Record makers lock music away
10 May 01 | New Media
Rise in seized pirate CDs
05 Jun 01 | Music
CD download deal for EMI
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