Thursday, October 9, 2003; 6:07 PM
By Ben Berkowitz
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Three days after a Princeton graduate student posted a paper on his Web site detailing how to defeat the copy-protection software on a new music CD by pressing a single computer key, the maker of the software said on Thursday it would sue him.
In a statement, SunnComm Technologies Inc. said it would sue Alex Halderman over the paper, which said SunnComm's MediaMax CD-3 software could be blocked by holding down the "Shift" key on a computer keyboard as a CD using the software was inserted into a disc drive.
"SunnComm believes that by making erroneous assumptions in putting together his critical review of the MediaMax CD-3 technology, Halderman came to false conclusions concerning the robustness and efficacy of SunnComm's MediaMax technology," it said.
SunnComm, which trades on the Over-the-Counter Bulletin Board, said it has lost more than $10 million of its market value since Halderman published his report.
The software was used on a CD, Anthony Hamilton's "Comin' From Where I'm From," released last month. Halderman, who has done research in the past on other CD protection technologies, said the software could also be disabled by stopping a driver the software loads on the computer when the CD is played.
SunnComm alleged Halderman violated criminal provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in disclosing the existence of those driver files.
Halderman -- who received an undergraduate degree from Princeton earlier this year and is now pursuing a doctorate in computer science with an emphasis on computer security -- said he had not yet heard directly from SunnComm in regards to litigation but was unconcerned.
"I'm still not very worried about litigation under the DMCA, I don't think there's any case," he told Reuters. "I don't think telling people to press the 'Shift' key is a violation of the DMCA."
A spokesman for BMG, the unit of Bertelsmann AG that licensed SunnComm's software and released the Hamilton CD, declined to comment on the planned suit.
The music industry, claiming a sharp decline in CD sales is the result of digital piracy through online file-sharing services, has worked to develop methods to secure music on discs and restrict its copying.
Halderman's graduate advisor at Princeton is Ed Felten, a computer science professor who once sued the Recording Industry Association of America in a challenge to the constitutionality of the DMCA.
The RIAA had threatened action under the DMCA against Felten and colleagues after they said they would publish a paper disclosing flaws in an industry security initiative. That suit was eventually dismissed.