A Boston University professor has gained support for testifying that the Recording Industry Association of America cannot distinguish between illegally downloaded music and legal files simply by listening to them. Appearing as a technical expert witness for 21 Boston-area students being sued for illegal filesharing, computer science professor Azer Bestavros testified July 12 that the RIAA cannot reasonably determine the legality of songs by listening to them, as a witness had claimed. Arista Records is suing the anonymous students in a case that has seen the testimony of Carlos Linares, vice president of legal affairs for the Recording Industry Association of America. On April 26, Linares testified that after the music files were listened to, they were confirmed as being illegally obtained. “It is not possible to distinguish between a music file obtained from a licensed, legal source and the same music file obtained illegally by . . . only listening to the downloaded files,” said Bestavros, a College of Arts and Sciences professor, in his testimony. Despite his statement, the RIAA said it stands by its practices. “The courts have unanimously sided with the record companies on this issue and their right to defend themselves against the unauthorized distribution of their music,” according to an RIAA statement provided to The Daily Free Press. “The key issue rests on the fact that any music available on illegal peer-to-peer sites is illicit music regardless of its origin (legitimate CD, download, etc.), and the use of these sites to obtain music is unlawful and subject to legal action.” “My client believes that the information contained in Linares’s affidavit is false, and therefore the court is misled and provided false information,” said Raymond Sayeg Jr., a Denner Pellegrino, LLP partner representing one of the sued students. “Bestavros’s affidavit educates and corrects the court.” Bestavros said he has testified in court “many times” as a technical expert. Although he said he has no background in online music piracy, the question he was asked “doesn’t take a Ph.D. to answer.” “The evidence [the RIAA has] seems to be very weak, and their technical abilities leave a lot to be desired,” he said. “It’s clear that these particular tactics don’t work.” Sayeg said he agrees with Bestavros’s claim and he too is unaware of any type of software, mechanism or technique that can determine the source of music files simply by listening to them. Until Bestavros’s testimony, no one had challenged Linares’s affidavit, and the case was one-sided, Sayeg said. “I think when the court gets to hear and consider Bestavros’s point, his affidavit will be significant,” Sayeg said. The case is awaiting a hearing date from the court, he said. “I don’t see a real rebuttal put on by the RIAA if the court finds that the Bestavros affidavit is credible, which they should,” Sayeg said. “They have not even challenged the science upon which Bestavros bases his testimony on.” Bestavros said his testimony has provoked positive reactions in Boston. Bloggers have also spoken out in support of his opinions. “I got a lot of emails and phone calls from people who felt very strongly about thanking me,” he said.