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Free-speech lawsuit charges ahead

A professor who backed out of giving a speech amid legal threats is moving ahead with a lawsuit that would allow him to present his paper at an upcoming conference.

    A professor who backed out of giving a speech amid legal threats is charging ahead with a lawsuit that would allow him to present his paper at an upcoming conference, even though his opponents say they have no plans to prevent him from giving his speech.

    The Electronic Frontier Foundation said it will continue to pursue its lawsuit asking a judge to clear the way for Princeton professor Edward Felten to present his hacking paper at the USENIX conference next month.

    The Secure Digital Music Initiative, the Recording Industry Association of America and Verance, one of the companies that created the technology Felten plans to talk about, have told the judge they never planned to sue and have filed motions to dismiss the lawsuit.

    "Plaintiffs sued in spite of the repeated public statements that neither the RIAA nor the SDMI intended to file such litigation...The RIAA and SDMI have clearly and repeatedly informed plaintiffs that neither the SDMI nor the RIAA will institute litigation with respect to the papers identified in the complaint," SDMI and RIAA attorneys wrote in a letter to the judge.

    But EFF attorneys plan to continue the suit in part because they want to clear the way for other researchers to present papers about the controversial technology.

    "They've said they're not concerned with this paper, but that doesn't mean that they're still not concerned about other papers," EFF attorney Lee Tien said. "When you do research in this area, other things are bound to come out of it."

    In the suit, the EFF also challenges the constitutionality of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a law passed in 1998 that's designed to address copyright issues in the digital age.

    The move comes as companies are increasingly wielding the DMCA to go after people who want to talk about, or link to, technology that theoretically could be used to break locks on copyrighted material.

    Earlier this week, FBI officials, acting on behalf of Adobe Systems, arrested a Russian programmer for publishing a program designed to remove security measures from Adobe's e-books. And last year, in a case brought by the movie industry, a federal judge ruled that a hacker magazine was breaking the law by posting and linking to code that could be used to break DVD encryption. The case is on appeal.

    The EFF said it's continuing with the Felten case because it wants to prevent researchers from having to worry about being sued by companies or carted off by federal officials for giving talks about their research.

    In the Felten case, the professor was scheduled to present a paper at a conference in April discussing how he broke some watermarks designed to protect digital music. Watermarks place a unique bit of code onto a file that is theoretically difficult to remove without damaging the quality of the sound or image.

    However, before he gave the speech, the RIAA and the SDMI--which had invited people to try to break the watermarks but then asked them not to talk about it--sent letters to Felten and his colleagues, saying they risked violating the DMCA by presenting the paper.

    Felten backed down and later filed suit asking for permission to give the paper at a later date.

    A copy of some of Felten's research already is circulating on the Web, but the paper has since been updated, and Felten has said he'd like to present the latest version.

    Felten, his colleagues and the EFF are already preparing for a victory dinner after the presentation of the paper. Tickets for the dinner, which includes a chance to celebrate with Felten and the other researchers, cost $250 and can be purchased on the EFF's Web site.