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A Princeton University professor plans to publicly detail on Wednesday how his research team disabled the music industry’s latest anti-piracy technology after receiving assurances from the industry he would not be sued. Edward Felten and lawyers at the Electronic Frontier Foundation said they would nevertheless continue their legal efforts to overturn a 1998 federal law that bans the discussion of methods for circumventing copy-protection technology. “It’s not up to the recording industry to make assurances every single time someone was going to publish something,” said Shari Steele, the foundation’s executive director. She complained that the 1998 law hinders academic freedom and free speech. Felten, who is on leave from Princeton this fall, said his team disabled five of six security technologies, known as watermarks, during a challenge from the Secure Digital Music Initiative, a coalition of music, telecommunications and consumer electronic companies. He had planned to discuss the technology’s weaknesses at a Pittsburgh conference in April, but decided against it because of legal threats from Matt Oppenheim, a lawyer with the Recording Industry Association of America. Officials later said they never intended to sue. The RIAA reiterated that promise in June when Felten announced plans to present his findings at a different conference, the Usenix Security Symposium in Washington, D.C., this week. Steele said Felten will take the music industry at its word and speak about his research, though the courts have yet to rule on whether such discussions constitute free speech exempt from the 1998 law. In June, Felten petitioned the U.S. District Court in Trenton, N.J., for a clarification. The recording industry considers that lawsuit baseless in light of its assurances. “The bare minimum of any legal case requires a conflict between parties, and such a conflict is not present in this case,” Oppenheim said in a statement Tuesday. Felten could still be subject to criminal prosecution if he speaks. Already, the U.S. government has used the 1998 law to charge a Russian computer programmer with circumventing U.S. copyright protections on electronic-book software made by Adobe Systems. Felten’s June lawsuit asks the court to overturn parts of the law, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, to prevent civil and criminal action against any researchers who may publicize copy protection technologies and their weaknesses. A “fair use” doctrine in copyright law permits the use of copyrighted materials for scholarly research. But the Digital Millennium Copyright Act has been interpreted as prohibiting the dissemination of software used to gain access to copyrighted digital data. In a court filing Monday, the Electronic Frontier Foundation noted that Felten’s colleagues — graduate students and other professors — have similar research and papers in the works. According to the briefs, researchers are hesitant about continuing because of legal uncertainties. “It’s a bad law that is hurting people’s ability to be able to talk about things,” Steele said. “The law itself needs to be fixed.” Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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