[linux-elitists] Chalmers on Felten
Fri Apr 27 10:37:51 PDT 2001
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Felten withdraws paper, wins argument
GMT Apr 27, 2001, 12:10 AM | ET Apr 26, 2001, 07:10 PM | PT Apr 26,
2001, 04:10 PM
San Francisco - In his finest feat of reverse social engineering to
date, Princeton Professor Ed Felten has demonstrated the most serious
flaw in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) -- its chilling
effect on essential research. The Information Hiding Workshop now under
way in Pittsburgh witnessed the ultimate information-hiding exploit
when Felten withdrew his paper on the Secure Digital Music Initiative's
flawed content protection schemes.
"Our paper was submitted via the normal academic peer-review process,"
Felten told workshop attendees, noting that reviewers enthusiastically
recommended the paper on its scientific merit. "Nevertheless, the
Recording Industry Association of America, the SDMI Foundation and the
Verance Corporation threatened to bring a lawsuit if we proceeded with
our presentation...Threats were made against the authors, against the
conference organizers and against their respective employers."
Ultimately, Felten said, he and his team reached a collective decision
not to expose themselves, their employers and the conference organizers
to litigation -- "at this time." "We remain committed to free speech and
to the value of scientific debate to our country and the world," he
concluded. "We believe that people benefit from learning the truth about
the products they are asked to buy. We will continue to fight for these
It was a bravura performance, perfectly timed for use in oral arguments
in the DeCSS appeal on Tuesday May 1. The issue of Felten's research
illustrates the perils of the DMCA's notorious Section 1201 far more
vividly than the DeCSS question ever did.
Section 1201 states, "No person shall circumvent a technological measure
that effectively controls access to a work." Under this provision, the
Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) sued a group of hackers
involved with DeCSS, which unscrambles their DVD content scrambling
system (CSS). The hackers pointed out that DeCSS was used to play
legitimately obtained DVDs on systems for which no CSS player was yet
available. That is, DeCSS was not used for circumvention.
They went on to argue that by constraining what software they can write,
the MPAA's interpretation of Section 1201 violates their First Amendment
right to free speech.
At trial, Judge Lewis Kaplan rather surprisingly found that software
source code has both expressive and functional aspects. He ruled that
the expressive aspects are protected speech, while the functional
aspects are not.
This was a huge win for the defense, even though they lost the case.
Felten's research shows why. His paper is all expression and has no
functional aspects. If the expressive aspects of DeCSS are protected
by the First Amendment from prosecution under Section 1201, then so is
Those who view Felten's decision to withdraw his paper as a win for the
Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI) have missed the point. Even the
SDMI Foundation recognizes that it is not. Secretary Matthew Oppenheim
is backing away from his earlier threats as fast as he decently can.
"The Secure Digital Music Initiative Foundation does not -- nor did it
ever -- intend to bring any legal action against Professor Felten or his
coauthors," he said in a statement. "We sent the letter because we felt
an obligation to the watermark licensees who had voluntarily submitted
their valuable inventions to SDMI for testing...To that end, we have
encouraged Professor Felten and the technology companies to resolve this
matter. We leave it in their hands to do so."
That leaves the Recording Industry Association of America and Verance
in the completely indefensible position of having to support strictly
circumscribed academic freedom. Like all technology companies, Verance
depends on fundamental research in computer science and has the patents
to prove it -- patents that proved very useful to Felten's team in their
reverse engineering efforts.
Verance's dilemma encapsulates the problem e veryone faces if Section
1201 is too narrowly applied. The DMCA will end up gutting the very
intellectual property industries it was framed to defend. What Professor
Felten has done is show everyone exactly what the law means, not only
for Linux hackers, but for everyone with a vested interest in research,
technology or intellectual freedom. Not a bad result for a paper he
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