Science publisher eases copyright rule

The IEEE says it will no longer require its authors to comply with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, saying the policy was more contentious than expected.

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A major publisher of scientific research is reversing a policy requiring its writers to comply with a hotly debated U.S. copyright law.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) said it will no longer require authors to attest that their work does not violate the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The IEEE, publisher of nearly one-third of all computer science journals, said it is removing the requirement because it turned out to be more contentious than expected.

"The DMCA's been so bloody controversial," Bill Hagen, the IEEE's intellectual property rights manager said Tuesday. "On one hand, it protects our content. On the other hand, it's been used in a way that's gotten a lot of people pretty angry."

Among other things, the DMCA outlaws certain types of technology that can be used to circumvent copy-protection measures and carries criminal penalties for violators.

Earlier this year, the IEEE inserted wording related to the law into the form its authors must sign. But it decided to pull the language following complaints from international scientists, who don't feel they should be constrained by U.S. laws, and from American programmers worried the DMCA could threaten their research.

Last year, Princeton professor Edward Felten decided not to present a research paper on weaknesses in certain copy-protection technologies after receiving a letter from entertainment industry representatives warning he risked violating the DMCA by talking about his findings. The industry officials eventually backed down, but the incident sent shivers through the research community.

In a separate case, Russian software maker ElcomSoft is embroiled in the first major test of the criminal provisions of the DMCA. The company, which makes software that can crack Adobe Systems' e-books, is facing criminal charges related to copyright circumvention.

A new draft of the IEEE form authors are required to sign should be ready by the end of the summer.

The IEEE is still grappling with how to treat language on export controls, which are prohibited by some U.S. laws.