Why Do DMCA Supporters Want To Rewrite Ed Felten's History So Badly?

from the this-again? dept

In 2001, Princeton computer science professor Ed Felten was getting ready to present some findings he and some colleagues made exposing weaknesses in the SDMI copy protection scheme the recording industry was pushing at the time. The recording industry had actually put out a challenge for anyone to crack SDMI, promising $10,000 to anyone successful (the idea was that this would somehow get "hackers" on the recording industry's side). Felten and the colleagues successfully cracked SDMI -- but rather than collect the $10,000, he (like a good professor should) decided to publish the details in a paper presented at a conference (which was outside the rules of the $10,000 contest, which Felten never agreed to). What happened? The recording industry went ballistic and threatened Felten that they would sue him if he presented the paper. They also demanded that he destroy all copies of the paper. They used the DMCA anti-circumvention rule as the peg on which to charge him. This was obviously a total misuse of the DMCA. Felten then went to court to get permission to publish the paper, noting how this seemed like a violation of the DMCA -- and how this showed how the DMCA went against the First Amendment in chilling free speech. The RIAA, in a rare moment of clarity, realized this was insanely risky for them, and started backtracking. They claimed they never actually intended to sue, despite the threatening letter which said they would. Because of that, the case was dismissed. However, the very real potential that the RIAA might have sued certainly was picked up on by researchers around the world, and clearly did create a "chilling effect" on research.

However, supporters of the anti-circumvention rules (read: the recording industry and their friends) have been working overtime to rewrite history and turn the Felten case into something entirely different. At the CATO copyright conference back in April, one of the speakers from the Progress and Freedom Foundation dismissed the worries over the Felten case, noting that it had a "happy ending." Felten promptly hit back at that claim, noting that it was "happy in the same way one is happy to recover from food poisoning." Either way, that misses the point. No matter what the ending was, the overall impact clearly is going to make researchers think twice about the research they do. If there's even the threat that the RIAA might sue them, it's going to make them go in a different direction.

Tim Lee is now pointing to yet another attempt by DMCA supporters to rewrite history with regards to Prof. Felten. In this case, Lee Hollar claims that Felten took the case to court after the RIAA backed off and did so to opportunistically try to strike down a DMCA law he didn't like. This is flat out false and does Felten a huge disservice. His lawsuit was filed beforehand, and was much more focused on allowing his paper to be presented. The effort to knock out the DMCA was in reaction to its use to chill potential research. The reason he tried to keep the case going afterwards was to help prevent those chilling effects for others (and for his own future research). Hollar's article also has numerous other misleading statements. He spends a lot of time on the totally bogus argument that we can't change the DMCA since it would violate international treaties (treaties which the US helped make) and also cites the small number of anti-circumvention cease-and-desist letters that have gone out. That, of course, is the wrong thing to look at. The chilling effects come much earlier, such that the research isn't even done. The cease-and-desists only come after the research is done and preparing to be published. It appears, though, that DMCA supporters really don't like the Felten example, and are working hard to rewrite history in their favor.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Daniel, Jun 23rd, 2006 @ 1:11am

    As much as I hate the DMCA...

    I don't know if there is a noticable "chilling effect" on security research. If anything, it seems to have encouraged researchers to go into the field because of the quick fame and nortiety that a C&D from the RIAA could prompt. Of course this just based on my anecdotal observation and I could be wrong. If we are really intersted maybe a count of security related papers on cite seer would be in order.

    That ebing said, regardless of the actual statisics, the DMCA should be struck down on principal since it does not support natural slection of a solution on its technical merit.

    i.e. Even if the law has no "chilling effect", "solution providers" are less likely to care if their product is "teh sux".

     

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  2.  
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    RockDJ, Jun 23rd, 2006 @ 1:21am

    They Don't Get It....

    The recording industry and I mean the record companies and the RIAA are hanging on grimly to an outdated and obsolete business model. The more they try to protect this model the more they are going to piss off their customers. We have reached a fork in the road, the way forward is clear, they can either dissolve into irrelevance or embrace the new opportunities that favour the brave.

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 23rd, 2006 @ 4:09am

    Re: They Don't Get It....

    ... or they can just keep going as they're going, hoping that someday a combination of draconian legislation and new technology will make it feasible to severely curtail unauthorized copying. Those of you who insist that that's impossible are lacking imagination -- when it becomes a death-penalty offense to sell or own hardware that will play media without checking the government database of all media licenses against the RFID tag implanted in your skull at birth, then you will have to pay your $3.95 for that movie download. Period. Never happen here, you say? Well good, then you're not the kind of thug who works at the RIAA. But as long as they can dream of that future, they're not going to give up. And honestly, we are headed in that direction, and no one knows how far down that slope we have to go before their bullying hits the break-even point.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 23rd, 2006 @ 4:15am

    Mike your a horrible writer, a simple apositive explaining DMCA and SDMI or at least sayin what they stand for would help a lot or else u alienate a lot of user and make ur aticle usless to pp whu are music tech junkies

     

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  5.  
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    Wolfger, Jun 23rd, 2006 @ 4:57am

    Re: Re: They Don't Get It....

    when it becomes a death-penalty offense to sell or own hardware that will play media without checking the government database of all media licenses against the RFID tag implanted in your skull at birth, then you will have to pay your $3.95 for that movie download. Period.

    First off: you mean $23.95, right? I mean, the MPAA has already proven that they won't pass the savings of a digital distribution model on to customers. Their digital offerings (e.g.: King Kong) have been the same price as the DVD, and inferior to the DVD in actual value.
    Secondly: you underestimate the power of piracy. In such a restrictive world, piracy would increase, and black markets for chips that check non-government databases, and for surgical RFID removal would spring up. People will always get what they want. If the free market is destroyed, the black market will flourish. Ask any 20's era gangster... they loved prohibition!

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 23rd, 2006 @ 5:31am

    Re:

    Pot, meet Kettle.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 23rd, 2006 @ 5:37am

    Re: Re:

    Actually, I meant "glass houses" and "throwing stones", but you get the idea.

     

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  8.  
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    Matthew, Jun 23rd, 2006 @ 5:38am

    Re:

    by Anonymous Coward on Jun 23rd, 2006 @ 4:15am
    Mike your a horrible writer, a simple apositive explaining DMCA and SDMI or at least sayin what they stand for would help a lot or else u alienate a lot of user and make ur aticle usless to pp whu are music tech junkies

    Perhaps you're new, or drunk, but you can click on the nice blue hyperlinks to expand on an article.

    But to be back on track. I had hoped the Felten case would go to its lengths so that this rediculous bit o legislature, DMCA that is, would burn and burn brightly. I have had discussions with lawyers and even a vice president of a movie company regarding DMCA litigation. They are just completely out of touch. They do not know of the hi-tension blacklash coming at them. They think they're the heroes.

    When, in fact, they are annoying at best, and buying away our freedoms in the form of sold out Senators and Representatives giving them carte blanche laws to chase down the evil copiers with merely the wink and nod that they won't abuse it; which they have done aplenty.

    The Administration has sold us out, and they must go. Make your voice heard. Vote in November!

     

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  9.  
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    Beck, Jun 23rd, 2006 @ 5:51am

    Wikipedia

    Hmm, it looks like they're rewriting history in other places too. Check out Felten's WIkipedia article. The section about "SDMI Lawsuits" sounds like it was written (or rewritten) by his detractors.

    Wikipedia Ed Felten

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 23rd, 2006 @ 6:20am

    Risky move huh?

    No, we are already well aware that the RIAA wishes to end any free speech that doesn't enhance their bottom line.

    It's ok for various music artists to talk about killing cops, dealing crack, and beating their wives - but any type of information that could even possibly for one second cut into their profits???? BAN IT!!!!

    If it was up to the RIAA, they'd burn all programming books so there would be no chance of anyone getting even a single song without paying $15.00+ for a CD.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 23rd, 2006 @ 6:33am

    Hehe, yeah - and the beautiful thing about Wikipedia is that anyone can make changes to it - especially if they are true. The page has been edited to a more truthful version - funny what two sentances and a link can do to change the entire theme of an essay.

    haha, and it was rich too - just as I edited it, someone else did as well - no problem, I copied the changes and put them back where they belong.

     

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  12.  
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    Uranus Tinks, Jun 23rd, 2006 @ 6:54am

    Treaties? We doan need no steenkin treaties

    Isn't it funny that we can't change the DCMA, since it would violate international treaties, but we can freely ignore treaties we don't like? Perhaps someone should explain the terms "abrogation" and "non-signatory nations" to the RIAA.

     

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  13.  
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    I, for one, Jun 23rd, 2006 @ 7:21am

    Blowing hot and cold

    They offer $10,000 for someone to do the research, then they threaten to sue people who do the research. Do they want the research done or not? Their behaviour is the very definition of insanity (or at least an Alzheimers like dementia). If the RIAA were an individual a padded cell at the funny farm would be the safest place for them.

     

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  14.  
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    Tyshaun, Jun 23rd, 2006 @ 8:51am

    Re: Re: Re: They Don't Get It....

    Secondly: you underestimate the power of piracy. In such a restrictive world, piracy would increase, and black markets for chips that check non-government databases, and for surgical RFID removal would spring up. People will always get what they want. If the free market is destroyed, the black market will flourish. Ask any 20's era gangster... they loved prohibition!


    So you're saying this is a good thing and appropriate response? Let's see what I remember from the 20's, oh yeayh, almost every major city under mobster control, Valentines Day massacre, bootleg liquor that injured and killed people, and those are the high points!

    I think your argurement is creative, but you miss one major point. Bootlegging works when you have a wealth of sources to get passable bootleg material. With music RIAA owns most of the music producers that people want to hear. I know, I know, feed me the tripe about new artists using the internet to spread the word about their stuff, let's all gather round the campfire and sing kumbaya! The reality is, as RIAA is allowed more legislative prowess it can and will do whatever it can to subvert the proliferation of small artists. I can see RIAA agents making "offers they can't refuse" (to stay in the gangster motif) to small music makers to either not distribute music OR sign up with the RIAA slave factory. I think this is a closer view of the future of the music industry.

     

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  15.  
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    Lewis Salem, Jun 23rd, 2006 @ 10:19am

    Felton Case.

    To gauge the effect that the DMCA has had on research is difficult. Internet radio was snuffed out, but it's hard to tell how many start-ups decided it wasn't worth the risk.

    I believe that the whole situation has escalated because of an industry's rufusal to adapt to the changing world around them. To survive, they must change now. Hold off on that beach house in San Clemente for a few years and put some money into R&D. Give us a reason to purchase your product over simply downloading it.

     

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  16.  
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    Sanguine Dream, Jun 23rd, 2006 @ 12:35pm

    Felton should feel used

    I'm willing to bet the RIAA wanted someone to crack their precious DCMA so they could see its weaknesses. They just paid $10k to have someone show them how to tighen their grip on the music industry. Even though they didint want Felton to publicly release his information Ill bet anything that the RIAA has several copies of it trying to think of ways to stop the cracking methods he and his team used.

     

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  17.  
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    DV Henkel-Wallace, Jun 23rd, 2006 @ 1:31pm

    Minor point

    By the way, Mike: it's the Cato (as in Marcus Porcius) Institute, not CATO (Central Atlantic Treaty Organization) Institute.

     

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