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A Princeton University professor who successfully bypassed the music industry’s latest anti-piracy technology sought court permission Wednesday to talk about his research. Edward Felten said the music industry or developers of the technology may sue him if he presents his findings at a conference in August. Felten asked a federal court in Trenton, N.J., to declare ahead of time that his work is a legal expression of free speech. “We believe strongly that this information not only is something that we ought to be entitled to publish, but also is information that will benefit the public and the scientific process,” Felten said. Felten and his team of researchers at Princeton, Rice University and Xerox-PARC also sought to overturn portions of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The law makes it illegal to offer ways to circumvent technology designed to protect copyrighted works, such as digital music. Felten’s team wants to bar criminal prosecutions against any researchers who may discuss such technology and its weaknesses. Felten’s research grew out of an industry challenge to break security technologies from the Secure Digital Music Initiative, a coalition of music, telecommunications and consumer electronic companies. The professor said his team disabled five of six electronic signatures, or watermarks, added to recordings as inaudible background noise. Felten planned to talk about the technology’s weaknesses at a Pittsburgh conference in April, but decided against it because of legal threats. Matt Oppenheim, the recording industry trade group’s senior vice president for business and legal affairs, warned Felten at the time that “you could be subject to enforcement actions under federal law.” But industry officials later said they had no intention to sue. The Recording Industry Association of America reiterated that promise Wednesday. “Professor Felten’s decision to sue … is inexplicable,” said Cary Sherman, the trade group’s general counsel. “We have unequivocally and repeatedly stated that we have no intention of bringing a lawsuit against Professor Felten or his colleagues.” Even so, the lawsuit seems aimed at stopping threats once and for all. Lawyers with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is providing legal work for the researchers, indicated they would proceed unless the industry promises not to go after future researchers as well. “We’re not going to play a game where with each paper we’re going to ask” for permission, said Cindy Cohn, the foundation’s legal director. Felten is scheduled to present a new version of his paper at the Usenix Security Symposium in Washington, D.C., this August. Conference organizers joined the research team in seeking court protection beforehand. Joining the recording industry as defendants are the SDMI Foundation, which the recording industry co-founded; Verance Corp., a developer of watermarking technology; and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, who has criminal enforcement powers over the law in question. The Justice Department had no immediate comment, while SDMI referred calls to the recording industry trade group. Verance said it had yet to receive the lawsuit. In a statement, the company also expressed disappointment that the research team “has chosen to address this matter in the courts rather than through a continuing dialogue with the affected parties.” Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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